We are fully supportive of efforts to remove the threat of criminal sanction for marijuana use. We recognize the concerns regarding the disproportionate impact of these laws on disadvantaged communities across New York State, agree that these serious issues must be addressed, and support alternatives to incarceration and the re-evaluation of sentencing guidelines.

We recognize that marijuana, in some cases, has medicinal benefits for certain serious conditions that have been qualified under New York State law, and realize that there are concerns with implementation, access to, and affordability of medical marijuana. These issues must be also addressed.

We are gravely concerned with the mixed message to youth that using recreational marijuana is acceptable, even with proposals that limit purchase to those 21 and over, and even with strong advertising restrictions. One need only look to the teenage “vaping” epidemic that has taken hold in New York State and across the country because of perceptions among many teenagers that a particular substance may not be harmful.

For example, we note that in 2017 the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a policy position based upon recommendations from its Council on Science and Public Health that concluded that cannabis is a dangerous drug and a serious public health concern, and that the sale of cannabis for recreational use should not be legalized.

Its position was based upon the analysis of multiple studies that found, even as cannabis had some therapeutic benefits, there was substantial evidence of a statistical linkage between cannabis smoking and health issues. The AMA-issued paper looked at data from jurisdictions that legalized cannabis that demonstrated adverse impacts, such as unintentional pediatric exposures resulting in increased calls to poison control centers and emergency department visits. That data showed that there was an increase in traffic deaths due to cannabis-related impaired driving.

It is noteworthy that another leading medical organization, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), supports the “decriminalization” of marijuana by reducing penalties for marijuana possession to civil offenses, yet they do not support the legalization of marijuana. ASAM recommends states that have not acted to legalize marijuana should not proceed until more definitive data from the states that have legalized marijuana can be studied.

We understand that there have been conflicting reports about the impact of legalization. However, we take very seriously reports such as those from Colorado that reported increases in drugged driving arrests and fatalities arising from drivers who tested positive for marijuana.

Of particular concern is the impact on teenagers and young adults, as the adolescent or teen brain continues to mature and develop until around age 25, especially in areas of the brain involved in planning, decision-making and learning which develop last. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Studies have shown that when marijuana is consumed, THC and other compounds enter the bloodstream, reach the brain and attach to naturally occurring receptors called cannabinoid receptors. This causes problems in learning and memory, coordination, reaction time and judgment. It also can cause hallucinations, paranoia and a range of emotional problems. Marijuana use may cause academic difficulties, poor sports performance, impaired driving and troubled relationships.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse; Marijuana Report Series).

Further, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V, studies have shown that marijuana can cause symptoms of serious mental health related issues such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and sleep disorder. Alarmingly, people using cannabis who are in the mental health system are much less likely to participate in services and supports.

Moreover, the SAMHSA report, “National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Comparison of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 Population Percentages” showed that marijuana use by youth has increased in those states that have legalized marijuana.

While we appreciate the Governor’s Budget proposal seeks to place some restrictions around the sale of marijuana to prevent diversion to youth, we remain gravely concerned that legalization will still result in marijuana being abused by children, and threaten public safety through an increase in drugged driving.

We urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to approach the issue of marijuana legalization with serious forethought, to heed the recommendations from leading medical organizations, and perform a thorough analysis of scrutinized data from other states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.

Therefore: (1) we oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana, (2) recommend that proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use be removed from the State Budget, and (3) support review of criminal sanctions for marijuana use, alternatives to incarceration and the re-evaluation of sentencing guidelines.

Medical Society of the State of New York

New York State Parent Teacher Association

Association of School Business Officials of New York

Rural Schools Association of New York State

New York State Association of County Health Officials

New York State Neurological Society

New York State Occupational and Environmental Medical Association

New York State Ophthalmological Society

New York State Society of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery

New York State Society of Anesthesiologist

Smart Approaches to Marijuana