The end of 2021 marked a milestone for legalized marijuana in New York state, as local municipalities weighed whether to house marijuana dispensaries and on-site consumption sites within their borders.
The deadline for opting out has passed, but many community considerations remain about how best to support the legalization of recreational marijuana while still protecting resident health and safety.
One of these considerations is determining local standards for public marijuana use.
The New York Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA) prohibits the use of marijuana in all places in which smoking and vaping of tobacco products is prohibited by state public health law.
That includes all indoor worksites and work vehicles, and many outdoor spaces including mass transportation waiting areas, hospital and school grounds, and playgrounds (but only between dawn and dusk and only when young children are present).
While New York state law allows tobacco use in private vehicles, the MRTA prohibits marijuana use in private vehicles.
Without additional local regulation, people can smoke or vape just about everywhere else.
The Office of Cannabis Management website makes clear that the addition of cannabis to the Clean Indoor Air Act establishes a baseline on where cannabis can be smoked and vaped.
Local governments, as well as private businesses and landlords, have the authority to also prohibit cannabis use on their premises.
Most local governments and scores of private employers and landlords already have policies in place that prohibit the smoking and vaping of tobacco on their properties.
Some of these policies anticipated the legalization of marijuana and used definitions of “smoking” and “vaping” broad enough to include both tobacco products and cannabis.
Those that limit policy definitions to tobacco products would require expansion of those definitions in order to also prohibit cannabis.
It is a subject of current debate whether or not a municipality or private business can prohibit marijuana use in locations where they allow the use of tobacco products.
What is clear is that marijuana use can be prohibited by municipalities and private businesses in all locations on their properties in which tobacco use is also prohibited.
From a public health perspective, there is much to be gained by adopting smoke- and vape-free policies for shared public spaces that prohibit the use of both tobacco and cannabis.
Secondhand marijuana smoke and aerosol emissions from THC-laden e-cigs contain hundreds of harmful chemicals and fine particulates similar to those found in secondhand tobacco smoke and nicotine-based e-cigs, including many carcinogens.
Tobacco and cannabis product litter can contain toxins dangerous to people, animals and the environment.
Prohibiting tobacco and marijuana use in family-friendly locations also contributes to a social norm that helps prevent youth uptake of both.
Marijuana legalization can coexist with the public health goal of protecting people from the harmful effects of exposure to secondhand smoke and vape emissions and preventing youth smoking and vaping.
Local action may be needed to ensure that implementation of the MRTA supports tobacco-free norms.
Theresa Zubretsky is community engagement coordinator for the Capital District Tobacco-Free Communities, which services Albany, Rensselaer and Schenectady counties.
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Categories: Guest Column, Opinion