ELLICOTTVILLE — While New York lawmakers debate how to spend the revenue from potential legalization of recreational marijuana use, an upcoming symposium wants to discuss how legalization could impact public health.
The Western New York Public Health Alliance, along with the New York State Public Health Association, is hosting “Marijuana Symposium: The Public Health Perspective” June 11 at Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville.
The public symposium will feature three speakers offering perspectives on the current status of New York’s marijuana legalization, as well as what lessons can perhaps be learned from other states that have legalized.
“It isn’t just a monetary issue. There are also other impacts to the community,” said Kate Ebersole, facilitator of the WNY Public Health Alliance. “It’s more to say, ‘What are some of the issues people maybe aren’t considering around legalization of marijuana?’ … The outlier issues, the ones that aren’t necessarily in the main part of debate but nonetheless need to be taken into consideration by communities if we do legalize marijuana.”
WNY Public Health Alliance has been offering symposiums, including on topics like concussions, e-cigarettes and Alzheimer’s disease, for about a year and a half. Ebersole said it felt appropriate to now hold one on marijuana given the possibility New York could legalize recreational, adult use of the drug in the near future.
Legalization was part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial budget proposal but did not make it into the finalized budget passed in April. Democratic lawmakers introduced a revamped legalization bill last week in the hopes of passing it ahead of the end of the legislative session June 19.
Lawmakers have said the biggest hurdle is coming to an agreement on where to spend the revenue from taxed marijuana.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of debate in New York state,” Ebersole said. “(WNY Public Health Alliance) just felt like this whole idea of the public health concerns and some of the outlier issues ... had not been raised as well as they could have.”
Some of the public health issues that could arise from legalization are more impaired drivers on the road, as well as youth consumption.
Colorado found that its marijuana-related traffic deaths more than doubled after it legalized marijuana in 2014, going from 55 deaths in 2013 to 125 deaths in 2016, while a state-issued survey actually found marijuana use among teens slightly decreased since the drug was legalized.
The June 11 symposium will actually feature the manager of the Colorado Department of Public Health’s Marijuana Health Monitoring and Research program, Elyse Contreras. She’ll discuss the public health impact and issues associated with the state’s marijuana legalization.
There will also be representative from another that has legalized recreational marijuana use. Cheryl Sbarra, the senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, will discuss guidance on social consumption of marijuana, as well as regulating establishments that sell marijuana.
Offering perspective on New York’s ongoing legalization process will be Dr. Lorraine Collins, associate dean for research for the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Collins serves on the governor’s workgroup for drafting legislation on legalizing recreational marijuana use.
“The speakers will offer a range of perspective,” Ebersole said.
While WNY Public Health Alliance’s symposium on concussions targeted coaches and its Alzheimer’s symposium targeted caregivers, Ebersole said the marijuana symposium will have no target audience.
“We want to leave it as open as possible to anyone that is interested in learning more about this,” she said. “The tone we’re trying to take is advocacy and education for the full range of information that will be needed for people to make good decisions about this.”
The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 11 in the Fairway Room of Holiday Valley. Admission is free but registration is required, as the event is open to the first 125 people. Lunch will be provided.