The side effects of marijuana in New York

No matter how much good someone intends, no matter how much effort and thought goes into any endeavor, it is best to remember the rule of “unintended consequences”.

In Governor Cuomo’s 2018 State of the State message presented a few days ago in Albany, there was no mention of allowing New Yorkers to partake in marijuana for recreational use. This was surprising to many Albany political watchers. Several people thought the 2014 legislation allowing for medical use in New York would only be a short hop to recreational use. Perhaps legalizing marijuana is considered a ‘done deal’ and needed no mention in the Governor’s progressive agenda. 

Just last Thursday the New York Assembly committee on Health and the committee for Alcohol and Drug Abuse held hearings on the topic of legalizing and regulation of marijuana. With a $4 billion gap anticipated in New York’s next budget, politicians will chomp at the bit for a new product to regulate and tax as a new revenue stream. Attempts at legalizing marijuana in New York have been floating around the Assembly and Senate for some time, but haven’t received widespread support.  A $4 billion dollar hole in state finances may change those thoughts.

Presently the use of weed for either medical or recreational purposes is allowed in 30 of the 50 states. Nearly every state has decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, New York included. Recreational use is allowed in eight states, some bordering New York. However, the outright legalization of marijuana for adults is on track to set up a clash between the federal government and individual states.  In the eyes of the federal law enforcement officials and other federal agencies, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance.

Under the previous Presidential administrations of Bush and Obama, there have been ‘guidelines’, ‘memorandums’ and ‘policy letters’ that turned a blind eye to states ignoring federal marijuana laws. But federal laws were never updated. This wink to ignoring federal law changed recently when US Attorney General Jeff Sessions reminded federal prosecutors they could use their discretion to prosecute marijuana violators.  My thought is the attorney general’s actions have solidified the mission of those seeking to allow for legalization of pot.

It seems recreational ganja use is only a matter of time in New York State. In preparation we should look to Colorado, Washington and Oregon for some lessons on how to deal with the inevitable and learn from their unintended consequences. There are many laws that will need amending and several new laws will need to be implemented.  Not only will people be allowed to use marijuana, many will also be licensed to grow and distribute the pointy leafed plant.

I have friends, relatives and professional law enforcement acquaintances in some of the Left Coast States which were first to allow recreational pot use and manufacture. Here are some of their recommendations in no particular order of importance. First off, we have spent years educating the public about the evils of cigarette smoking and the dangers of second-hand smoke. Pot smokers should be shunned and chastened in the same manner, but with even stricter exceptions. Because Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) causes drowsiness and decreased motor skill coordination, no one should ever operate a vehicle while enjoying their tokes on a bowl or a joint.

Further, some of the new-found tax revenue should be earmarked for research into better detecting impaired driving under the influence of marijuana. Crashes caused by drunken drivers are bad enough, but there will a doubling in the amount of legal substances which impact a driver’s motor skills and brain activity after marijuana legalization.

Local governments will need to decide about zoning in or zoning out marijuana growing facilities and acreage. Being a Farm Bureau member makes me wonder how this new crop will be welcomed into the agriculture industry because there will surely be some millionaire farmers made from future harvest seasons. Some thought is also needed about the transportation of this plant around the state because the marijuana plant carries all sorts of new fungi and pests that can harm staple crops in the region.

Addiction to legal THC, just like alcohol and tobacco, will be dealt with by health care providers, and that’s never free. Any treatment will need to be covered by modified health insurance regulations which will impact non-user’s premiums. There are current laws in New York that protect minors from unlawful dealings with alcohol and tobacco. Soon marijuana will be added to the list of no-no items teenagers will crave all the more.

Employers will need to decide what to do with the common practice of drug testing employees, especially those who drive vehicles for a living. While being under the effects of alcohol on the job is a long-standing taboo, employers need to have some thoughts about THC remaining in someone’s body for weeks after consumption.

If you are a legislator at any level of government, these things and many more need some heavy thought now. If you are a proponent of legalizing marijuana, you can do your cause some good by helping with the regulation of this product so it doesn’t get out of hand. If you are an opponent of legalizing weed, you put up a good fight by holding it off as long as you have. We need to hope New York’s legislators aren’t in too much of a hurry to fill the $4 billion dollar hole with green from a different source. 

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