MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Board of Health held its monthly meeting Thursday and near the end of the session Jamestown legislator Elisabeth Rankin had asked if health officials had any thoughts on the renewed call to legalize recreational marijuana in this year’s proposed state budget. The governor is calling for legalization to help boost revenue through a cannabis tax.
Rankin wanted to know specifically, if the county were given the option, would health officials take a position on whether or not to allow cannabis products to be sold in the county.
Health director Christine Schuyler said the board hasn’t discussed the issue yet, but that could change in the coming months, should the state move forward with legalization.
“I don’t know of conversations since county executive Wendel took office [in 2020], I know there had been conversations in the past about that. I do think it’s something that has to be revisited. For most counties, I believe, financially it will be very difficult to opt out of that but I do believe it is worth a discussion,” Schuyler said.
Schuyler also suggested to Rankin that a conversation in the county legislature also take place as more details on the proposal are rolled out.
We did ask County Executive PJ Wendel in November his position on the issue, following his winning the special election for county executive. Wendel said that despite the promise of additional revenue through new businesses opening in the county, there’s no guarantee it will be the major economic windfall touted by some legalization advocates.
“Dangling dollar signs and saying, ‘if you do this, look at the windfall.’ We don’t know that. We don’t know what the windfall is. Will we see an increase [in revenue] and will we see sales? Yes. But I guess the question we have is, if someone is smoking marijuana and it’s now legal, are we concerned whether it’s coming from a legal dispensary or or somewhere else? Those are concerns we’re going to be faced with,” Wendel said.
Wendel was also concerned about the public safety issues that could arise, particularly with driving while under the influence. And he also feels the public health aspects of marijuana use need to be looked at further.
Specific details of the marijuana legalization have not been finalized. But two years ago when the issue was brought forward, state legislators had said they wanted to give counties the option to opt out of allowing it to be sold locally if they wished. The possession of cannabis would remain legal regardless.