AGAINST POT LEGALIZATION

As the push for recreational marijuana legalization gets the governor’s nod, a powerful group of New York officials are vehemently opposed to the plan. Find out why.

Aired on January 7, 2018.

TRANSCRIPT

> GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO HAS MADE THE LEGALIZATION OF RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA ONE OF HIS TOP LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES OF 2019.

WITH DEMOCRATS NOW IN CONTROL OF BOTH THE ASSEMBLY AND THE STATE SENATE, LEGAL POT HAS A GOOD CHANCE OF MAKING TO IT THE GOVERNOR'S DESK SOONER RATHER THAN LATER.

STILL, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE GOVERNOR, WHO ONCE DESCRIBED MARIJUANA AS A, QUOTE, GATEWAY DRUG NOW FULLY SUPPORTS LEGALIZATION, NOT EVERYONE IS ON THE LEGALIZATION BANDWAGON.

A GROUP REPRESENTING LOCAL HEALTH OFFICIALS FROM ACROSS NEW YORK STATE RECENTLY CAME OUT AGAINST THE MOVE, ARGUING THAT SERIOUS HEALTH CONCERNS STILL REMAIN.

AND JOINING US NOW TO TALK ABOUT THOSE CONCERNS IS SARAH RAVENHALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW YORK STATE ASSOCIATION OF COUNTY HEALTH OFFICIALS.

SARAH, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME, RAFAEL.

SO SARAH, FIRST OF ALL, PLEASE ELABORATE.

WHAT IS THE NEW YORK STATE ASSOCIATION OF COUNTY, STATE OFFICIAL?

THE NEW YORK STATE ASSOCIATION OF COUNTY HEALTH OFFICIALS FOR THE LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENTS.

THERE ARE 58 LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENTS ACROSS THE STATE, AND WE SUPPORT AND EMPOWER OUR MEMBERS TO DO THEIR PUBLIC HEALTH PREVENTION WORK IN THEIR -- IN THE COMMUNITIES THAT THEY SERVE.

SO WHY DOES THE ORGANIZATION OPPOSE THE LEGALIZATION OF RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA?

SO THE COUNTY HEALTH OFFICIALS ARE REALLY THE LEADING EXPERTS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES WHO MAKE DECISIONS AS EVIDENCE-BASED DECISIONS THAT SHAPE THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF COMMUNITIES.

THAT IS OUR PRIORITY.

SO ALL OF THE DECISIONS WE MAKE REALLY NEED CONCRETE EVIDENCE TO INDICATE THAT THERE WOULDN'T BE UNDUE HARM TO PEOPLE OF THE STATE.

AND AFTER REVIEWING THE RESEARCH, WE FELT LIKE THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH LONG-TERM EVIDENCE TO INDICATE THAT AN ADULT USE REGULATED MARIJUANA PROGRAM WOULD NOT CAUSE UNDUE HARM TO COMMUNITIES IN NEW YORK STATE.

SO WHAT SPECIFICALLY, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HARMS, THE HEALTH ISSUES YOU SEE COMING?

SO AN INCREASE IN MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS.

AND THE COLORADO STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENT HAS SEEN THAT OUT OF COLORADO, WHO ALSO HAS A REGULATED MARIJUANA PROGRAM.

INCREASED EXPOSURES IN CHILDREN.

THERE ARE A LOT OF PRODUCTS THAT COULD BE ENTICING TO CHILDREN, EDIBLES FOR EXAMPLE.

AND COLORADO HAS SEEN AN INCREASED NUMBER OF HOSPITALIZATIONS DUE TO THAT.

A POSSIBLE LINKAGE IN THE USE, LONG-TERM USE OF MARIJUANA BEING CONNECTED TO POSSIBLE FUTURE ADDICTION.

THIS ONE'S PARTICULARLY IMPORTANT AS WE CONTINUE TO COMBAT THE CURRENT OPIOID EPIDEMIC.

IT'S SOMETHING ON OUR RADAR.

THOSE CONCERNS REALLY, REALLY CULMINATE IN OUR POSITION OF OPPOSITION.

HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THOSE WHO ARGUE, WHO HAVE HEARD THESE POINTS AND ARGUE, LISTEN, ALL THOSE THINGS, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE ALREADY SMOKING MARIJUANA RECREATIONALLY.

SO ALL THOSE THINGS ARE ALREADY HAPPENING.

THEREFORE, MAYBE IT'S BETTER TO LEGALIZE AND REGULATE IT AS ALCOHOL AND TOBACCO IS REGULATED.

AT LEAST YOU HAVE SOME CONTROL OVER IT.

YOUR RESPONSE.

ABSOLUTELY.

AS PUBLIC HEALTH STEWARDS, AND THAT REALLY IS OUR ROLE, PUBLIC HEALTH, COUNTY HEALTH OFFICIALS, OUR REAL HEALTH IS PUBLIC HEALTH.

WE FELT IT IMPORTANT TO COME OUT TO THE PUBLIC AND MAKE SURE THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RISKS AND PRELIMINARY RESEARCH THAT IS OUT THERE INDICATING POTENTIAL HEALTH IMPACTS.

BUT AS I SAID IN THE INTRODUCTION, THE GOVERNOR IS FOR LEGALIZATION.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL IS FOR LEGALIZATION.

ALMOST EVERY SIGNIFICANT TOP ELECTED OFFICIAL IS FOR LEGALIZATION.

NOW MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH IS FOR LEGALIZATION.

WHAT IS IT THAT THEY DON'T KNOW?

AND WE DO -- OUR MEMBERS DO UNDERSTAND THAT THERE ARE MANY BECAUSE IT'S A VERY COMPLEX ISSUE THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES.

WE'RE VERY AWARE OF THE POTENTIAL SOCIAL JUSTICE, RACIAL JUSTICE IMPACT THAT SOMETHING LIKE THIS COULD HAVE.

WE'RE ALSO AWARE OF THE INCOME.

WE WANT TO SUPPORT INITIATIVES TO BRING INCOME TO THE STATE, BUT NOT AT THE RISK OF THE HEALTH OF THE COMMUNITY WE SERVE.

SO -- WE'RE REALLY COMING FROM A PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE.

AND IN ADDITION, WE SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING, AND THERE ARE SAFEGUARD I THINK THAT THE STATE CAN CONSIDER WHEN PUTTING REGULATIONS TOGETHER SUCH AS SETTING THE AGE OF SALE AT 21 YEARS, AND THEN CONCURRENTLY, LEGALIZING TOBACCO 21 AT THE SAME TIME.

THIS TYPE OF REGULATION WILL PROTECT PEOPLE FROM EXPOSURES TO E-CIGARETTES, TO TOBACCO PRODUCTS, AND NOW POSSIBLY TO REGULATED MARIJUANA.

YEAH?

NO, NO.

I WAS JUST GOING TO -- YOU MENTIONED THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE IMPACT OF LEGALIZING MARIJUANA.

AS OBVIOUSLY YOU KNOW THAT THE LAW HAS BEEN DISPROPORTIONATELY ENFORCED IN COMMUNITIES OF COLOR.

BUT YOU DON'T -- YOU AND YOUR ORGANIZATION DON'T THINK THAT REVERSING THAT IS A SUFFICIENT REASON TO LEGALIZE MARIJUANA?

WE'RE REALLY COMING FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF COUNTY HEALTH OFFICIALS.

THE LEADING HEALTH STRATEGIST IN A COMMUNITY WHO KNOWS THE COMMUNITY, KNOWS WHAT THE COMMUNITY NEEDS, AND WANTS TO COMMUNICATE THE POTENTIAL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH USING THIS TYPE OF PRODUCT.

FOR EXAMPLE, THERE IS RESEARCH THAT SHOWS THC REMAINS IN THE BREAST MILK OF A BREAST-FEEDING MOTHER FOR UP TO SIX DAYS AFTER USE OF CANNABIS.

WE ARE GOING TO BE EXPECTED AND RESPONSIBLE FOR COMMUNICATING THAT TYPE OF INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC SO THAT WE CAN HELP PROTECT VULNERABLE POPULATIONS FROM THAT PUBLIC HEALTH PERSPECTIVE.

EARLIER YOU MENTIONED THE EXAMPLE OF COLORADO, WHICH HAS RELLIZED MARIJUANA NOW FOR A COUPLE OF YEARS.

AND THERE IS TEN STATES, PLUS WASHINGTON, D.C. THAT HAVE LEGALIZED IT.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE LESSONS THAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THOSE STATES, SINCE AS YOU SAY, YOU KNOW, IT'S PROBABLY VERY LIKELY GOING TO HAPPEN HERE.

THE PROGRAM NEEDS TO BE IMPLEMENTED AND LAID OUT BEFORE SALES BEGIN.

THE AGE OF SALE NEEDS TO BE SET AT 21.

WE NEED TO FUND RESEARCH AND CLINICAL TRIALS THAT WILL HELP US KIND OF GROW THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE BASE SO THAT WE CAN STAND PREPARED AND READY TO KNOW WHAT THE IMPACTS ARE GOING TO BE AND WHAT THE LONG-TERM OUTCOMES ARE GOING TO BE.

IN ADDITION, LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENTS HAVE TO BE FUNDED TO DO THIS WORK.

THEY ARE THE HEALTH EXPERTS IN THE COMMUNITY, AND THEY'RE GOING TO BE RELIED UPON TO DELIVER THIS TYPE OF INFORMATION TO THE PUBLIC.

WE SERVE THE PUBLIC THAT IS OUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY.

BUT WE NEED THE INFRASTRUCTURE IN PLACE TO DO THIS TYPE OF WORK BEFORE THE POLICY ROLLS OUT.

AND FINALLY, SARAH, I IMAGINE, MAYBE I'M WRONG, BUT I IMAGINE YOU OR YOUR ORGANIZATION HAS HAD A CHANCE TO SIT DOWN AND TALK TO THE GOVERNOR ABOUT THIS.

IF YOU HAD, WHAT'S BEEN THE RESPONSE OF HIS RESPONSE AND HIS ADMINISTRATION'S RESPONSE?

THANK YOU.

SO TO BE CLEAR, WE WEREN'T INVOLVED IN THE INITIAL ASSESSMENT OF THE POLICY, THE STATE'S POLICY OR ASSESSMENT.

BUT WE HAVE HAD THE WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY AND VERY HELPFUL CONVERSATIONS SITTING DOWN WITH HIM, TALKING ABOUT THE ROLE OF PUBLIC HEALTH, AND THEY'VE BEEN RECEPTIVE TO THAT.

THEY'VE ASSURED US THAT THE ROLE OF PUBLIC HEALTH WILL BE INCORPORATED INTO WHATEVER PROGRAM THEY PROPOSE.

BUT AGAIN, AS PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS SERVING THE COMMUNITIES, WE REPRESENT COMMUNITIES AND FAMILIES AND CHILDREN.

WE WANTED TO COME OUT VISIBLY TO THE PUBLIC TO LET THEM KNOW WHAT OUR CONCERNS REALLY ARE.

ALL RIGHT, SARAH.

WELL, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT.

AND THANK YOU FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANK YOU POUR THE OPPORTUNITY, RAFAEL.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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