A new report from the state Department of Health says the potential benefits of legalizing marijuana for use by adults outweighs the potential risks. But there’s concern over public education if legalization goes forward.
The report, released Friday for review by Governor Andrew Cuomo, lists volumes of information on the pros and cons of legal cannabis. Health, criminal justice, public safety, and the economy are covered, along with the need for educating the public, should legalization go forward.
Both Karl Shallowhorn, Education Program Coordinator for the Community Health Center of Buffalo, and State Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes agree with the report that public education is critical. But education on what is where they differ.
“When you talk about the idea of addiction and mental health issues that can come from that, that’s where the concern is,” said Shallowhorn. “So by basically legalizing it, you’re sanctioning the use and therefore sending the message that it’s okay.”
The report does cite potential negative impacts as a concern among those with serious mental illnesses and the potential for increasing risk of developing psychosis among adolescents. Shallowhorn said they may not be widespread concerns, but legalization does present a potential public health issue.
For Peoples-Stokes, the focus on education lies in what can be done with cannabis for the better.
“There should be opportunities for people to figure out how they can get engaged in business as it relates to cannabis issues, too, because there are a ton of people that are in business,” said Peoples-Stokes. “So I think education is critical. I think we start that process as a legislative body by hosting public hearings around the state.”
Peoples-Stokes – a long-time supporter of efforts towards legalization – currently has a bill before the state legislature to enact marijuana regulation and taxation. She said every state agency should have a role to play in education, covering topics from small business, to research, to reinvestment in communities disenfranchised by marijuana-related incarceration.
The report does address the need for education, highlighting public safety messaging and the need to know about potential harms of drugged driving. It says other states where marijuana has already been legalized have conducted extensive education programs as their programs were implemented.
Read the full text of the report here.