NY's cannabis law: A problem for young people – New York Daily News

New York State legalized cannabis for adult-use marijuana in March 2021. It’s little understood that several key features of the statute contradict longstanding tenets of sound public health policy and have nothing to do with social justice, adult-use cannabis or the legality of use or retail sale of cannabis.
New York has historically been known for robust public health policies which empower local communities to pass laws that meet the social, economic and public health needs of community members. But features of New York State’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act are at odds with this approach, making it simultaneously more laissez-faire and more conservative than perhaps any other state cannabis law in the country.
Comparing and contrasting with California’s legalization policy provides useful insight, especially since California law is thought by some to be the “Wild West” of legalization.
Eliana Miss Illi, General Manager of Weed World poses as she smokes a joint on 7th Avenue in Midtown New York City, March 31, 2021. (KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
The first and most surprising tenet of New York law that’s at odds with California’s: preemption, meaning the state’s authority overrides that of any local governing body to pass laws or regulations that are stricter than the state’s. New York State explicitly prohibits localities that did not entirely opt-out from participating in cannabis sales by last Dec. 31 from enacting local retail laws deemed “stricter” than the state law. Moreover, New York State says that once a municipality has opted into allowing cannabis sales, it can never change its mind. That’s ridiculously rigid.
To provide an example of how this can play out, this spring, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn introduced a bill that would more strictly regulate cannabis product packaging and advertising that appeals to children in Suffolk County. Ten of the 41 municipalities in Suffolk County opted in, including the Town of Brookhaven, within which Hahn’s district falls.
Yet if the local legislature passes it, New York State can sue the county and likely win. This is the opposite of California’s law, where jurisdictions, rather than the state, retain the authority to choose what is best for their communities, and it’s the opposite for countless other issues in New York, from speed limits to the placement of stop signs.
Second, New York passed the first law in the nation to allow the public consumption of cannabis. Unlike secondhand tobacco smoke, there are no laws protecting children from secondhand cannabis smoke and there are mounting data linking secondhand cannabis exposure to adverse health outcomes among children. It is difficult to see how this advances public health goals, especially amidst the tough tobacco control laws that have dramatically reduced secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke.
Third, New York permits the co-location of tobacco and cannabis products in the same retail outlet. The public health rationale for prohibiting such co-location should go without saying; research shows that cannabis use increases after a state legalizes for recreational use, youth who use cannabis use are more likely to start using tobacco and e-cigarettes and that co-use of cannabis and cigarettes is much more common in states that have recreational legalization. In contrast, California does not allow co-location of sales; there, the prevalence of cigarette use among youth is lower than in any other state except Utah.
Fourth, in California, only those 21 and over may enter outlets that sell cannabis. And cannabis dispensaries sell only cannabis: no tobacco, no food, no beverages. IDs are checked at the door and again at the point of sale. New York allows candy, food and beverages to be sold in cannabis dispensaries and does not require an individual to be at least 21 to enter.
It is not clear whether New York lawmakers who passed this law understood what the preemption clause does, nor is it clear if they were in favor of selling tobacco and cannabis together in stores where minors are permitted to shop for candy — perhaps placed side by side with cannabis gummies and soda, in a case next to THC-infused beverages — when they voted to pass this law.
Our work has shown that cannabis use has been increasing among parents nationally and, as of 2017, was much higher in legal states. Strong laws, policies and regulation could make legalization a success for all and protect the states’ most vulnerable citizens, children. But that’s not what we have here.
Since not a single recreational license has been issued in NYS, it is not too late to change the regulatory features of the law while maintaining legalization and the social justice gains that legalization brings.
If the past six years have taught us anything, it is that leaders make mistakes. True leaders acknowledge when they have made a mistake and then do what they can to fix it. That time is now.
Goodwin is a professor of epidemiology at The City University of New York, adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a licensed clinical psychologist. Pomeranz is an assistant professor at the School of Global Public Health at New York University and a public health lawyer.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News

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