Yesterday morning, Steven Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties, appeared on the Capital Press Room with Susan Arbetter.
In response to Governor Cuomo's Address at the New York City Bar Association on Monday, Acquario weighed in on Cuomo's plan to legalize marijuana across the state.
While cannabis would provide counties with much needed resources for education and public assistance, executive director Acquario was not exactly "championing" this cause, due to the severity of the opioid epidemic that has taken over the lives of many New Yorkers.
Acquario said "this is a major shift in public policy and we have been combatting an opioid epidemic, it's confusing, it's a confusing issue to teenagers and families in New York." He goes on to say "to introduce marijuana policy during a drug crisis is confusing, there are a lot of issues surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana, this issue needs to be engaged with local governments."
Another issue he raised concerns the use of the term "recreational" with cannabis. There is a lot of pushback using this word as it makes people fearful that impressionable children will be encouraged to use cannabis or try it for the first time, because it is now considered a "recreation."
According to Acquario, the largest area of concern is public health, specifically, the issues of teen access to cannabis, the regulation of the clean indoor air act, and coordination with Big Tobacco. "We are telling kids that it is not ok to smoke tobacco, but that it is ok to smoke marijuana?" He makes an interesting point here, one that definitely requires consideration before we unleash a multibillion dollar drug market on one of the most populous states in the country.
It is also important to get the tax structure right, Acquario references California, where there is a massive black market of marijuana, as a result of the state's failure to appropriately set tax rates on the sale of cannabis. It is important that Governor Cuomo learn from the mistakes of the other states that have legalized cannabis, New York is a huge state with enormous potential for revenue, which all hinges on our ability to get the program right from the beginning.
What is the counties role in all of this? Consumer protection and public health. the New York State Association of Counties has met with the Governor and voiced their concerns. It is now up to Governor Cuomo and his handpicked team to take New York to the forefront of the recreational cannabis market in the U.S.