State Backs Marijuana Legalization

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Board of Health discussed Thursday that the New York State Health Department officially backs the legalization of marijuana after much deliberations and studies conducted on the costs and benefits of making the drug legal and more attainable.

As a recent development that will likely impact the county, this state sponsorship could lead to medical and recreational cases of marijuana use locally. In her director’s report at Thursday’s board meeting, Public Health Director Christine Schuyler mentioned that the state department is officially behind legalizing the regulated use of marijuana in New York state for those 21 years of age and older.

The board discussed the pros and cons of legalization, including a possible significantly increased tax revenue and the problem of child welfare when parents are impaired by the drug. It was brought up that sometimes the tax revenue increases aren’t actually as dramatic as other states that have legalized marijuana have predicted in the past.

Another issue with possible marijuana legalization is the ability for law enforcement to tell if people are under the influence. Tests to determine marijuana content in the body are often more time-intensive and expensive. Despite the social welfare and public health impact, the board is confident legalization will likely be approved.

“This is a sign of the times,” board member Robert Berke said.

A regulated marijuana study has been conducted by the state and was delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on July 13.

In a statement released by the state health department, it was stated that: “The report, conducted by the Department of Health in consultation with other state agencies and subject matter experts, concluded that the positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in New York State outweigh the potential negative impacts.”

The department’s assessment of the potential impact of regulated marijuana in New York State analyzed the health, education and criminal justice and public safety considerations of implementing the drug. Economic estimates were also gathered that projected job creation and long-term cost savings by reducing costs associated with illegal marijuana such as police time and prison costs.

It was also concluded that areas that may be a cause for concern will be able to be mitigated with regulation and proper education. Government oversight of marijuana production, testing, labeling, distribution and sales was found to benefit public health through quality control and consumer protection.

New York would be one of the largest potential regulated marijuana markets in the United States if legalization were to move forward. Tax revenues are thus expected by the state department to be greater than in most other states that have legalized marijuana.

Legalization would also help eliminate the over-prosecution of marijuana and disproportionate targeting of certain ethnic communities, the report addressed. It was mentioned that there have been significant negative economic, health and safety impacts for low-income communities of color that would be negated in a move to legalize.

In other news, it was announced at the Chautauqua County Board of Health meeting that the rate for opioid overdoses in the county is now lower than the state average, an improvement from 2016 and 2017 when the county rate was above the state average. An increased use of naloxone kits was attributed to the decreased rate in overdoses.

A recent health advisory regarding congenital syphilis was also brought up. The infection can be life-threatening to infants and can be prevented by getting checked for syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections in a would-be mother.

“This is a public health issue we’ll really have to keep our eyes on,” Schuyler said.