Leaders in Columbia County are taking action to block the sale of marijuana in the county, should recreational use be legalized in New York. The concern is over retail sale.

Legalization would likely open the door for marijuana dispensaries to set up shop, similar to what has occurred in Massachusetts.

County leaders say those stores not only pose a risk to public safety, but also send a message they deem as unacceptable. Yet, legalization has proven to be lucrative for some communities in Massachusetts.

“It is not about revenue, it is about health,” said Jack Mabb, Columbia County Public Health director.

As lawmakers in New York consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use, Columbia County is poised to pre-emptively block the sale or marijuana in stores.

“This is just not us,” Mabb said.

The county’s board of health, led by Mabb, wants the county’s board of supervisors to ban the retail sale of marijuana, citing risks to public health and safety, along with possible less than expected sales tax benefits.

“You legalize it, if you want to decriminalize it that’s fine, but you send a different message when you allow outlets to be created. It becomes something different. It becomes, it’s ok. You’re sending a message to the kids,” Mabb said.

“We’re arresting people daily for unlawful possession of marijuana,” said Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett.

Bartlett says his primary concern with dispensaries is the impact on traffic safety.  

“We see it now with the dispensaries in Massachusetts, so many people coming into New York, they smoke or use candies or whatever they’re doing with it, and driving under the influence,” Bartlett said.

Current proposals have between two and four percent of sales tax revenue going to counties. If the legislation before state lawmakers passes, it would allow counties to opt out of allowing retail shops to sell pot.

Mabb believes taking action sends a strong message.

“When counties start opting out at this stage, maybe you really need step back from this,” Mabb said.

The action banning retail sale of marijuana in Columbia County is expected to be approved by the mainly conservative board of supervisors.

Lawmakers in Albany are considering a new bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational use, but there is strong doubt that will be passed this legislative session.