Am­ple ev­i­dence ex­ists of pot’s neg­a­tive effects, Kennedy says

The Buffalo News - - CON­TIN­UED FROM THE COVER -

flu­en­tial fig­ure in the on­go­ing de­bate over le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana.

“I think I have an obli­ga­tion to speak up,” he said dur­ing an in­ter­view Fri­day. “I’m not mak­ing a moral judgement, but whistling past the grave­yard is not the way to ad­dress this is­sue.”

He is also quick to re­mind peo­ple that the pos­ses­sion, dis­tri­bu­tion and pro­duc­tion of pot will con­tinue to be a fed­eral crime, re­gard­less of what New York does in the com­ing year. Gov. An­drew Cuomo and state leg­is­la­tors are cur­rently in ne­go­ti­a­tions over le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana.

In mak­ing his case against legalization, Kennedy points to a 2017 study by the Na­tional Academy of Sciences to sug­gest that the health effects of pot re­main a mys­tery. He ac­knowl­edges its ben­e­fits in treat­ing pain and re­duc­ing chemo­ther­apy-in­duced nau­sea but said the long-term im­pact on recre­ational users is largely un­known.

“De­spite the grow­ing per­cep­tion that the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana is a fait ac­com­pli, what has be­come pro­foundly clear to me dur­ing my ten­ure as U.S. At­tor­ney and the nearly three decades I spent as a fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor, is how scarce the ev­i­dence is re­gard­ing mar­i­juana’s im­pacts on in­di­vid­ual health and so­ci­ety well­ness,” he wrote.

Kennedy added his voice to a wide range of groups rais­ing con­cerns about le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, in­clud­ing the New York State PTA, the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics and the New York State As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice.

Kennedy thinks that dearth of ev­i­dence makes it im­pos­si­ble for the pub­lic to make an in­formed de­ci­sion.

In op­pos­ing legalization, he knows he is in the mi­nor­ity, and he will tell you that it was the strong mo­men­tum for legalization in New York that first prompted him to go pub­lic.

Fu­eled by a pub­lic that fa­vors legalization, Cuomo and state law­mak­ers jumped on the band­wagon and are now work­ing on a strat­egy for allowing the recre­ational use of pot.

In Jan­uary, a pub­lic opin­ion poll by Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity found 65 per­cent of New York­ers sup­port allowing adults to pos­sess small amounts of mar­i­juana. It also found 59 per­cent of those sur­veyed in fa­vor of the le­gal­ized sale of pot.

The ef­fort to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana also got a boost when state health of­fi­cials en­dorsed the idea and said the ben­e­fits out­weigh the risks.

For Kennedy, the op­po­site is true. He be­lieves there is am­ple sci­en­tific ev­i­dence of pot’s neg­a­tive effects on children and be­lieves legalization will make it eas­ier for kids to buy it.

“I’m a par­ent,” he said. “What about the de­vel­op­ing brain? Be­fore we jump in with both feet, let’s know what we’re get­ting in­volved with.”

Kennedy’s of­fice does not pros­e­cute low-level mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion cases, but the pros­e­cu­tor ac­knowl­edged the dis­parate im­pact of ar­rests on AfricanAmer­i­cans. Nev­er­the­less, he sees legalization as a pub­lic health and safety is­sue, not an is­sue of race.

In his opin­ion piece, Kennedy ar­gues that the mi­nuses as­so­ci­ated with legalization far out­num­ber the pos­i­tives and he points to “lim­ited ev­i­dence” of pot’s neg­a­tive im­pact on aca­demic achieve­ment, eco­nomic suc­cess and so­cial en­gage­ment.

“How can it be sound pub­lic pol­icy to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana when it very well may make us dum­ber, poorer and less so­cial and, when, in the end, we re­ally do not know what it is go­ing to do to peo­ple?” he said.

Kennedy be­lieves New York can learn from states where pot is al­ready le­gal and sug­gested their ex­pe­ri­ences with legalization are filled with hor­ror sto­ries.

He noted, for ex­am­ple, that in Ore­gon, mar­i­juana is still in great de­mand on the black mar­ket. He said mar­i­juana pro­duc­tion in the state is far out­pac­ing con­sump­tion and the re­sult is an over­abun­dance of cheap mar­i­juana.

“As with all drug deal­ing, with in­creased com­pe­ti­tion be­tween il­licit deal­ers comes in­creased vi­o­lence,” he said.

Kennedy is not the first pub­lic of­fi­cial to come out against legalization. Dr. Thomas Made­jski, pres­i­dent of the Med­i­cal So­ci­ety of the State of New York, has said he doesn’t think legalization would be “in the in­ter­est of pa­tients and our so­ci­ety.”

Like Kennedy, State Sen. Chris Ja­cobs, a Buf­falo Repub­li­can, pointed to the ex­pe­ri­ences of other states to sug­gest that legalization is a mis­take.

Ja­cobs noted that mar­i­juana-re­lated hos­pi­tal stays and emer­gency room vis­its are up dra­mat­i­cally in Colorado and said the an­swer to the ques­tion, does pot make peo­ple in New York health­ier and safer, is a “re­sound­ing no.”

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