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Public speaks out on regulated marijuana program, with many concerns over medicinal use

Avery Schneider

The latest public listening session on a regulated adult-use marijuana program in New York drew scores of people to Cheektowaga Wednesday night. For more than two hours, the floor was yielded to members of the community who largely spoke out about the pros and cons of marijuana for medical use.

Among the first few people up to the microphone was a man who asked to be identified only as Andrew. He was the first to say he wasn’t in favor of legalized marijuana because of its potential impacts to health.

“New York State has run for the last decade, maybe more, a war on cigarettes – saying that cigarettes are bad, everybody’s smoking. How much longer do we think it’s going to be? All of the sudden marijuana is good for us? We’re going to be able to smoke marijuana as the cure? We make it legal and stuff like that, all of the sudden we’re going to have more problems with more health issues, lung problems,” said Andrew.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Members of a 20-person working group that is drafting legislation for a regulated adult-use marijuana program, along with representatives from the State Department of Health and other agencies listened to the public comments.

But next to the microphone was Marilyn Craig, a self-proclaimed “long-time advocate” for legalization. Craig thanked Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing legislation to legalize medicinal marijuana, but criticized what she sees as a lacking element to the state’s program.

“People who need it for medicine, especially, should be allowed to grow it for their own medical needs,” said Craig, noting that medicinal marijuana can cost upwards of $300 a month.

She wasn’t the only one to share that sentiment.

Dr. Laszlo Mechtler, Director of the Dent Neurologic Institute, said out of more than 6,000 patients in his practice being treated with medical marijuana, 35 percent can’t afford the cost. He said he’s heard nothing about funding for additional research of the effects of long-term use. Without it, he said, insurance companies won’t pay for the drug.

Mechtler has become a staunch advocate for medical marijuana and is in favor of legalization for adult-use. But he worries that the program to regulate it lacks proper control.

“This is a medication. You’re taking things that could affect you,” said Mechtler. “So I think most people here are more comfortable when a physician gives something – a physician who may have experience in this. So all I’m requesting is simple – if we’re going to do this, have physicians in leadership roles.”

In July, the State Department of Health along with other agencies released a report on adult-use of marijuana saying that the potential benefits, including revenue from sales tax, outweigh the potential negative impacts. It said, “Regulating marijuana enables public health officials to minimize the potential risks of marijuana use through outreach, education, quantity limits at point of sale, quality control, and consumer protection.”

But speakers at the listening session like William Penman, Executive Director of the Allegany County Council on Substance Abuse, disagreed with the benefits. Penman said after seeing the devastation caused to families by alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, the state does not need to legalize marijuana for adult-use.

“Legalizing another drug and saying that we’re going to regulate it by doing education programs and so on – we’ve done that with alcohol and tobacco, and we’ve not been very successful with those.”

Members of a 20-person working group will take the public comments, along with others from listening sessions across the state, and consider them as they craft legislation between mid-October and the end of the year.

“We’re operating with the premise that we are drafting legislation so that this does become the law,” said Alphonso David, counsel to the governor and head of the working group.

“But we are going to make sure that we address some of the concerns that were raised in the report and concerns that are being raised in the communities.”

The group’s draft legislation is expected to be ready for consideration by the state legislature in the 2019 session.

Read the full text of the State DOH report here.

Follow @SAvery131

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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