N.Y. County Health Departments Oppose Legalizing Marijuana, Citing Health Risks


By Bethany Bump - December 18, 2018

Legalization should include safeguards to minimize exposure, unforeseen impacts, they say.

ALBANY — An association representing county health departments across New York expressed concern Tuesday about state leaders' plans to legalize recreational marijuana.

Citing various health risks associated with marijuana, the New York State Association of County Health Officials called on lawmakers to "approach legalization thoughtfully and with extreme caution."

Among their concerns, they said, are "future high risk" of addiction to other drugs, harmful cognitive and academic effects, adverse cardiac and respiratory events, unintentional exposure to children, and crashes resulting from drugged driving.

"As county health officials who serve as the first line of defense in our communities, we have seen up close the devastation associated with the abuse of legal prescription opioid medications," said Paul Pettit, president of the association. "We need to be certain that the implementation of any recreational marijuana policy does not create another unintended public health crisis."

The group issued a memo earlier in the year opposing legal marijuana after the state Health Department recommended the state establish a regulated, adult-use marijuana program. On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he intends to work with lawmakers to legalize a recreational program within the first few months of 2019.

On Tuesday, county health officials said they remain fundamentally opposed to recreational use of marijuana. However, should such a policy be enacted, they said, their association is calling for certain safeguards, including:

  • Setting the legal age of sale at 21 years of age in combination with adoption of Tobacco 21 policy at the state-level.
  • Establishing clinical trials and properly funding surveillance and research efforts to ensure the state can identify, measure and respond to foreseen and unforeseen impacts of legalized marijuana.
  • Adding marijuana to the Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure children, youth and other vulnerable populations are not exposed to marijuana use or second hand smoke.
  • Funding studies that will help evaluate reliable methods of toxicology field-testing and impairment levels which will help set evidence-based regulations for impaired driving, as it pertains to marijuana use.
  • Allocating additional funding to local health departments for anticipated increases in workload, including:
    • Response to Clean Indoor Air Act complaints
    • Sales enforcement activities
    • Dissemination of educational information campaigns to protect vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women, from harmful effects of marijuana use.
  • Formulating safety regulations for edibles, including child resistant packaging and restricting products/packaging that appeal to children.



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Filed Under: Health