By JON CRONIN
In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the state’s Department of Health (DOH) to review the impacts of regulating recreational marijuana on health, the criminal justice system and the economy. In July, the DOH released a report that included its assessment of legalizing marijuana and recommendations on how to do so. This fall, the state Assembly intends to hold public hearings on the matter.
In its report, the DOH concluded that New York should consider the legalization of marijuana after undertaking a review of the implications of doing so in surrounding states. The report found that “a regulated marijuana program would have health, social justice and economic benefits—however, risks associated with marijuana have been identified, although research for some of those risks is divided.”
Risks cited by the agency included lower birth weight for newborns as a result of maternal marijuana smoking; traffic safety issues; and the drug’s being harmful to the lungs if a combustible form is smoked. But the DOH ultimately concluded that “the positive effects of regulating an adult—21 and over—marijuana market in New York State outweigh the potential negative impacts.”
Some of the positive elements cited by the DOH include “tax revenues [that] can also support healthcare and employment” and addressing “an important social justice issue by reducing disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of certain racial and ethnic minority communities.”
Regulating marijuana, the DOH concluded, reduces risks, improving quality control and enhancing consumer protection. Marijuana use could also reduce opioid deaths and opioid prescribing, the agency noted, and usage of the drug has therapeutic benefits, such as the treatment of pain, nausea, and epilepsy and other health conditions.
However, it was also noted that marijuana use can have negative effects on those with mental illnesses, and that adolescents who use it at high rates have an increased risk of developing psychosis.
The study concluded that the legalization of marijuana was unlikely to result in changes in overall usage patterns, and that it would not likely be an incentive for youths to use the drug.
Regulating marijuana would enable laboratory testing as well as guidance and consumer education, thereby making consumers better informed about the products they purchased.
The study found that in 2010, the marijuana arrest rate in New York was the highest in the nation and twice the national average. African Americans were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession of the drug. Individuals with a criminal record of possession experienced long-term challenges when attempting to secure employment and housing. The regulation of marijuana in New York would allow law enforcement to devote more time to community policing and more serious crimes, the study concluded.
The DOH indicated that New York would have one of the largest regulated marijuana markets in the nation, thus offering great potential for tax revenue. The agency suggested that funding could be used to provide financial support for public health programs, community reinvestment, education, transportation, law enforcement and workforce development. It estimated that annual revenue for the state could be between $1.7 billion and $3.5 billion.
This summer, Cuomo directed the state’s Department of Financial Services to issue guidance to encourage chartered banks and credit unions to establish banking relationships with medical-marijuana businesses that are operating in compliance with state laws.
The state Assembly will hold four public hearings this fall on authorizing the adult use of marijuana. The hearings will give New Yorkers an opportunity to provide input. The locations and dates for the hearings have yet to be announced.
This week, the Queens Tribune’s special health section focuses on marijuana in New York State. One article presents the results of our discussions with local physicians about the health impacts of marijuana smoking, while another article explores the NYC Smoke-Free program and how that would be affected by the legalization of marijuana.