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States Hold Summit On Legal Cannabis, Vaping Illness Epidemic

Bebeto Matthews
From left, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy co-host a regional summit on public health issues around cannabis and vaping, Thursday in New York.

The governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania met in New York City Thursday to try to hash out a multi-state approach to legalizing the adult recreational use of marijuana.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the governors are trying to adopt a unified approach to legalization to avoid their residents crossing borders and going to other states where the laws might be more expansive or the taxes might be lower.   

“There is a desire to do this. I believe the people of this state and our surrounding states have a desire to do it. But the old expression the devil is in the details, how you do this makes all the difference,” Cuomo said. “It can be a positive if done right, it can be a negative if it is not done correctly.”

New York legislators proposed bills in 2019 to legalize recreational cannabis, but could not provide enough yes votes to pass the measure before the session concluded in June. Connecticut Governor Lamont also failed to get state lawmakers to pass recreational marijuana legislation. 

After the meeting, the governors said in a statement that they came up with some core principles, including researching the experiences of other states that have legalized cannabis, and adopting the best practices.

“That not only means getting best practices and learning what other states have done right and wrong but also doing it on a regional basis,” Lamont said.

They also will advocate for the passage of the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would override federal rules that have forced cannabis companies to conduct all of their business in cash.

Any agreements ultimately made by the governors would still need the approval of the states’ legislatures, and legislative leaders of several states attended, including New York’s Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

The summit also addressed the practice of vaping, and the epidemic of a vaping-related lung ailment, that has sickened over 1,000 people nationwide and killed several people. The illness has so far been linked to black market marijuana products, but health officials have not reached any conclusions.  

The states also agreed to take more steps to discourage minors from vaping any type of products, including nicotine.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says the steep rise in teen vaping is a public health threat.

“We’ve got an exploding vaping reality among youth,” Murphy said, “which has become an enormous challenge.”

The New York State health department has issued a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, saying they lead to increased use of e-cigarettes by teens, but that ban is on hold pending a court challenge from the vaping industry.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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