P’ville Board of Ed Takes Stand Against Recreational Marijuana

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As Gov. Andrew Cuomo urges state lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana, the Pleasantville Board of Education voted on a resolution last week opposing retail sales in New York.

Concerned with the health, safety and wellness of youth, trustees voted 4-1 to take a strong stand against any effort to legalize marijuana. The resolution also implored state lawmakers to conduct more rigorous studies on the potential impacts of legalized marijuana and provided several recommendations in the event it is legalized.

Board recommendations include wide ranging public awareness in schools, communities and health care settings regarding the risks of marijuana use for all ages; designation of state funds for existing substance abuse prevention and education initiatives; regulatory prohibitions on marketing and advertising to youth; marijuana products be sold in child-proof packaging with health warning labels; marijuana sales be limited to those 25 and older; prohibition of marijuana sales in establishments where alcohol is served or sold; limitation of marijuana products to state-operated outlets; and ongoing observational, process and outcome measurement data on the impact that marijuana use has on public health.

“The research on young brains and addiction is huge. If you get a 13-year-old who starts, we know this very strongly with alcohol, that if they do get addicted, their chances of getting rid of that much later in life is less than 20 percent,” Superintendent of Schools Mary Fox-Alter said. “A child only has one opportunity to be a child and then we spend the rest of our lives in adulthood. The younger we can keep kids, the healthier and better off they are.”

Fox-Alter worried that if marijuana is legalized teens in Pleasantville will have much greater exposure to products because of the village’s small size.

Board President Angela Vella said legalizing the drug could normalize it, influencing youngsters to experiment. There is potential damage that can be done to a developing brain by drinking alcohol or ingesting mind-altering drug, she said.

Trustee Larry Boes agreed, saying he’s concerned that with mental illness and opioid use increasing throughout the state, it introduces another potentially addictive product to young people. Trustee Shane McGaffey added that he hoped the board’s resolution would force local state lawmakers to re-evaluate the issue.

“There are things in this resolution that we hope will be considered, like the ability for individual municipalities to opt out,” McGaffey said.

Currently, a proposal is to have counties and municipalities with a population of at least 100,000 have the option of opting out of retail sales. However, the specifics of any legislation are still being worked on.

Trustee Emily Persons, who cast the dissenting vote, noted that while she is against adolescents consuming alcohol and drugs, she’s afraid of having an illegal product on the streets with unidentified ingredients. If marijuana is legalized, Persons said the product will be regulated, contain ingredient labels and evidence-based information and allow the consumer to make an educated decision before purchasing.

“If it’s legalized, it will be controlled. If it has a label on it, you know what it is,” Persons said. “As long as it stays illegal, it is dark and that is very scary.”

In his budget address earlier this month, Cuomo touted that legalizing marijuana would fix racial injustices and bring much-needed revenue to the state. Cuomo said a study showed the benefits of legalization outweighed the risks, adding that it would reduce crime for people of color, generate $300 million in tax revenue and create jobs.

In 2014, Cuomo signed the Compassionate Care Act to legalize medical marijuana in the state. Patients with serious diseases and conditions, including cancer, AIDS, severe chronic pain and other ailments can receive a prescription from a health care practitioner.

New Jersey is also moving toward legalizing recreational use of marijuana. In all, 10 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized recreational marijuana.

Acknowledging state officials will likely legalize marijuana, Persons requested the board alter the wording of its resolution to say “delay” instead of “oppose.” She said she would rather see the decision delayed for further analysis.

However, the other trustees disagreed. Boes asserted that requesting state officials delay their decision is a “sign of weakness.”

“We are a board representing the best interests of the students,” Boes said.

The Pleasantville Village Board Monday night is expected to address the challenges facing the community should the state legalize retail marijuana sales.