Putnam County’s top elected official took a strong stand against the legalization of marijuana last week as County Executive MaryEllen Odell used her State of the County address to slam the proposal.
Odell railed against the possibility of New York State allowing marijuana use for adults over the age of 21 in front of more than 100 people inside the Putnam County Golf Course banquet hall last Thursday. She called the possible legalization the county’s “newest enemy” during an address in which she dubbed 2019 the “Year of the Health Provider.”
The Republican argued legalizing cannabis would lead to more harm than good.
Citing a study by the organization Smart Approach to Marijuana, Odell said when Colorado legalized cannabis in 2014, the windfall of revenue expected from it fell far short, with the state anticipating $118 million in “pot taxes,” but only getting about $67 million. Another study indicated in Colorado that for every $1 gained in tax revenue, about $4.50 was spent to mitigate the effects of legalization.
Additionally, 69 percent of pot users admitted to driving while high in 2014 at least once, and 27 percent said they drove stoned almost daily in Colorado. From 2013 to 2015, car accidents in Colorado increased by 40 percent and drivers in fatal accidents that tested positive for pot rose 145 percent from 2013 to 2016.
In also making her case against legalization, Odell brought up how it could lead to more youth marijuana smoking. In Putnam’s five schools systems, a survey of high school seniors revealed more of them currently smoke marijuana than cigarettes.
“The state is naïve to think a law that limits sales to only those 21 and over won’t have negative impacts on children,” Odell said.
She floated the idea of Putnam opting out of selling marijuana if it’s passed at the state level, but it’s not clear if counties are allowed to yet. Also if Putnam were to opt out, they would not enjoy any of the tax revenue from pot sales, Odell said, but might have to provide services to those residents that travel to other counties to buy the recreational drug and then have negative effects within Putnam borders.
“We’re going to get stuck with the pain,” Odell said.
She encouraged residents to contact state legislators about the proposal.
Odell also addressed the ongoing battle against drug addiction, which has been a focal point in the county the last several years. Odell noted that communities and states across the country are facing the same issue of drug addiction that Putnam is dealing with. There have been 71 overdose deaths in four years, Odell said. By comparison, there have only been 21 motor vehicle deaths over that same time frame.
“They’re staggering and they’re sad,” Odell said of the number of overdose deaths.
In 2018, there were 151 overdose calls, in which 80 were transported, 38 were non-fatal and 18 resulted in death.
“I think everyone can agree, addiction, substance abuse and the opioid crisis is something we all are facing,” Odell said. When she was in Washington, DC for a conference recently, curbing substance abuse was the top topic discussed among leaders across the country.
She noted there have been a number of public offices and non-profits locally that have worked together to beat back the drug crisis. In 2018, the county distributed 676 kits of a Narcan meant to reverse the side effects of opioids, Odell said. The county also joined a lawsuit against big pharmacy companies for their role in the opioid crisis and any money won would go right back toward the fight against drug addiction, Odell vowed.
The county fully backs Drug Treatment Court, run by county Judge James Reitz, which has resulted in 195 graduates from 2012-18, Odell said. There are also several medication take-back boxes in the county to dump prescription drugs, which in some cases can lead to harder and more dangerous drugs like heroin.
The county will be asking local dentist and doctor offices to give out Detera Drug Activation System that can help safely dispose of prescription drugs when doctors hand out a prescription, Odell said.
The county has also pursued several outreach and awareness campaigns in recent years, including now partnering with 38 local pizza parlors to put a sticker on a pizza box about the dangers of drug use.
The district attorney’s office, under the direction of Robert Tendy, has been using the ODMapping program that helps law enforcement identify overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal and identify any possible clusters. The hope is these statistics will help develop a system of care for people that have overdosed Odell said.
“For Putnam County, it’s not about catch and punish, but identify and assist,” Odell said.