The New York State Catholic Conference says it would be "irresponsible" to pass marijuana legislation during the coronavirus pandemic, (CNS photo)
The New York State Catholic Conference says it would be "irresponsible" to pass marijuana legislation during the coronavirus pandemic, (CNS photo)

Officials at the New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) are continuing to advocate against the passage of recreational marijuana.

The Conference, which acts as the working arm for the state’s bishops on public policy measures, has long been opposed to the proposed bill (A.1617-C Peoples-Stokes / S.1527-C Krueger) that would legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana. 

In a memo of opposition released on Monday, March 23, the Conference addressed how New York State is facing heightened concern over public health due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. Dennis Poust, director of communications for NYSCC, said that trying to pass this legislation at a time like this would be “irresponsible” of state officials.

“It’s irresponsible to pass marijuana legalization during a pandemic, whether in the budget or as stand-alone legislation, both for public health and good government reasons,” Poust said.

COVID-19 has been particularly devastating on people with a history of lung problems or decreased lung capacity. The impacts of high-potency pot have already shown to cause health issues, making the bill’s passage especially ill-timed: “We do not know how marijuana smoking or, for that matter, cigarette smoking or vaping may contribute to bad outcomes for patients,” Poust said.

Separate from the medical implications, “it’s completely inappropriate” to pass legislation while the Capital is closed to the public. “It’s just legislators locked away making decisions that will have a profound impact on society when the issue could just as easily wait until this crisis is over… (and) the Capitol is fully opened up again to the public,” said Poust.

The Conference addressed other concerns related to marijuana in the memo, including “increased teenage and childhood use, impact on developing brains, natural progression to harder drug use, and increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths.”

Washington State saw fatal crashes from impaired drivers more than double in the five years after recreational pot became legal, according to an article in USA Today. While the bill imposes strict punishments for driving while high, no equipment is currently available to test a driver's level of THC.

Separate from recreational use, medical cannabis has been legal in New York since 2014. Studies have found that in certain doses, marijuana can help alleviate chronic pain, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

In a recent poll conducted by Siena College in January, 58 percent of New Yorkers supported the passage of marijuana for recreational use. Poust said this doesn’t show the whole picture: “A polling question doesn’t tell the respondent that in communities that have legalized marijuana, driving while impaired rates and auto insurance rates have skyrocketed. They don’t explain the impact marijuana has on developing brains of teens and young adults. This goes back to why there ought to be public hearings so legislators and the general public can get all the facts before making an informed decision.”

“As religious leaders, their duty is to support policies that promote the common good and to oppose those that do not,” said Poust. “And the bishops believe that legalization of recreational marijuana does not promote the common good.”