Legalization of marijuana in New York State for those who are 21 years old and over is expected to bring significant social change by halting the racial disparities in enforcement that have led to lifelong consequences and inequalities. 

But at the same time, it raises concerns in communities like ours. Law enforcement officials will have to grapple with keeping our roads safe from impaired drivers, while parents, educators and the Drug and Alcohol Task Force (DATF) will face the challenge of keeping underage kids or teens from smoking marijuana or using products with THC.

While New York’s new bill provides significant protections for children — it prohibits any possession of cannabis on school grounds, prohibits advertising and retail or consumption locations within 500 feet of schools, and bans advertising or packaging that appeals to minors — legal cannabis could negatively impact young people by reducing their sense of risk toward the use of marijuana and destigmatizing the use of drugs in general.

To lessen some of the unintended consequences of weed legalization, the bill ensures 20% of the state’s projected revenue of $350 million in annual tax revenues from cannabis sales will be earmarked for drug treatment programs and school-based drug prevention or early intervention, as well as public health campaigns to teach the public about responsible cannabis use.

We agree it’s crucial to educate the public about responsible use. People need to know that besides getting high, marijuana can temporarily heighten one’s senses, alter your perception of time, cause mood changes, impaired memory or slow reactions. High doses can be cause hallucinations or delusions, and in rare cases psychosis, and anyone who smokes habitually faces increased risk for lung disorders, breathing issues and increased heart rates.

But compare all this to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the active ingredient of which is the psychoactive chemical ethanol. The overuse or misuse of alcohol, can lower one’s inhibitions and ability to concentrate, impair judgment or vision, cause mood swings, nausea and vomiting, and raise one’s blood pressure.

Over time, a person can become physically dependent on alcohol and face dramatic withdrawal symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 88,000 people in the U.S. die each year from acute or chronic alcohol abuse. It is especially dangerous to mix drinking and driving — alcohol-related crashes are responsible for 29 deaths every day in the United States.

The consequences of driving under the influence are clear and legal enforcement has established a blood alcohol content level as the standard for charges of impaired driving, but there’s no such standard for people who drive while impaired by marijuana. Not yet anyway. And while studies in states with legalized marijuana have not shown a clear relationship between the use of marijuana and a rise in crashes, the rise in cannabis-related crashes in those states is concerning.

In terms of physical dependence and risk of death, alcohol is worse than cannabis. However, substance abuse disorders for either can lead to health issues or problems with work, school, or home.

Yet we would argue that smoking cannabis is less addictive and safer than alcohol, and given its medicinal value to treat pain it certainly has less stigma than other pain reducing drugs, most of which have severe withdrawal effects.

Genesis Recovery drug and alcohol abuse rehab center in California sees it this way: “Asking which substance is more addictive is like choosing the lesser of two evils – no one wins. Marijuana addiction is a very real thing, and about 9 percent of people who use marijuana will develop a marijuana use disorder (compared to 15 percent of alcohol drinkers and 32 percent of nicotine users).”

They conclude: “Both substances, when abused, can be addictive and lead to social, health, and personal consequences. So instead of asking which is more addictive, it’s probably a better to consider getting help for yourself or a loved one if quality of life is getting worse because of the use of marijuana or alcohol.”

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