Is Legalized Marijuana Good for the Public? No. 

Marijuana LeavesThe push to legalize recreational use of marijuana in New York is fraught with many challenges. 

New York’s physician community, through the Medical Society of the State of New York (MSSNY), supports efforts to remove the threat of criminal sanction for marijuana use.  We are also very concerned about the selective enforcement of marijuana laws, not only in New York, but across the country.   

Most physicians understand that marijuana does have medicinal benefit for certain serious conditions that have already been qualified under New York State law — such as cancer,  AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, or  multiple sclerosis.  However, at the same time, physicians are very concerned that marijuana is an addictive drug that can have significant adverse public health impacts if it were to be legalized for non-medicinal purposes.  We urge Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to approach this issue with serious forethought, and to heed the recommendations from leading medical organizations, and, with equal attention to scrutinize data from other states that have legalized recreational marijuana use.  

At its 2017 national meeting, the American Medical Association (AMA) approved a policy position based upon recommendations from its Council on Science and Public Health that concluded that cannabis is a dangerous drug and a serious public health concern, and that the sale of cannabis for recreational use should not be legalized. 

Its position was based upon the analysis of multiple studies that found that, even as it had some therapeutic benefits, there was substantial evidence of a statistical linkage between cannabis smoking and health issues.The paper looked at data from jurisdictions that legalized cannabis that demonstrated adverse impacts such as unintentional pediatric exposures resulting in increased calls to poison control centers and ED visits, as well as increases in traffic deaths due to cannabis-related impaired driving. 

For example, in Colorado, it was noted that there was a 70% increase in hospitalizations connected with marijuana use   between 2013 and 2015 (legalized marijuana use commenced there in 2014).   Moreover, fatalities where the driver tested positive for cannabinoids increased by 80% between 2013 and 2015. 

AMA Says Use Should Be Discouraged

In addition to opposing legalization, the AMA recommended that cannabis use be discouraged, especially by persons vulnerable to the drug's effects and in high-risk populations such as youth, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding.  They also recommended that states have already legalized cannabis should be required to regulate the product effectively in order to protect public health and safety and that laws that legalize cannabis use should consistently be evaluated to determine their effectiveness. 

It is noteworthy that another leading medical organization, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), supports the “decriminalization” of marijuana, by reducing penalties for marijuana possession to civil offenses, yet they do not support the legalization of marijuana.  ASAM recommends that states that have not acted to legalize marijuana should not proceed until more definitive data from the states that have legalized marijuana can be studied.
 
 

Addiction Specialists Say No, Too

Moreover, ASAM recommends numerous limitations for those jurisdictions that do authorize its use.  These include: prohibiting sale of cannabis to those under 25; prohibiting marketing and advertising to youth; assuring that non-FDA approved products contain appropriate warning labels, and, finally, to limit the purchase of cannabis to state operated outlets. 

New York State must not make policy based upon bumper sticker slogans.  Instead, it must proceed very carefully to prevent public health harm that could arise from legalized marijuana use.