Niagara County Board of Health officials are standing with a statewide group in opposition to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the region.
Niagara County released the results of a Sept. 27 vote on Thursday. The board stood by the position of the state Association of County Health Officials, a non-profit that describes itself as representing New York's 58 local health commissioners and public health directors.
Niagara's Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton praised the board's decision.
"I applaud the board of health for taking this position as it demonstrates our collective efforts to defend against well-documented adverse health effects of marijuana,” he said.
The board's vote comes after New York State Department of Health report concluded earlier this year that New York could raise about $700 million in tax revenue by legalizing marijuana and predicted that allowing adults to recreationally use the drug would not substantially raise rates of usage.
The association says its opinion is that government regulated marijuana production "will lead to dangerous public health outcomes" and should be kept illegal.
"Both research and experience of states with legalized marijuana (such as Colorado) have substantiated these concerns," the association said in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Among the adverse public health outcomes the association cites are: risk of addiction, negative cognitive effects and increased motor vehicle accidents.
Jack Porcari, the executive director of the Western New York chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said Thursday currently legal substances, such as alcohol, present the same, if not more substantial risks in the same categories.
Porcari said that the continued scheduling of marijuana as an illegal drug allows a black-market to thrive while promoting the distribution of an unregulated product.
"People don’t know what they’re getting and the government is allowing this to happen," he said.
In addition, Porcari said marijuana arrests disproportionately target African-American communities when research suggests usage of the substance is equal among whites. Legalization would help remedy the trend, he suggested.
It is a point in which the association is in agreement, writing in their letter that there are "possible linkages between legalization of marijuana with the advancement of social and racial justice initiatives."
"We too often see communities of color disproportionately impacted by arrests stemming from charges related to marijuana," the letter read. "There is no question families would benefit from alleviation of marijuana-related arrests and jail time that has disproportionately affected low income and communities of color."
The Associated Press contributed reporting.