The Town of Ulster will hold a public hearing during its meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6 to hear from the public on proposed legislation that would criminalize the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana. Supervisor James Quigley III said the move was partly inspired by the success of similar bans in neighboring communities, but also because of concerns about the safety of town employees.
Quigley cited a number of recent events involving the use of synthetic drugs, in particular an incident earlier this year involving a man walking down the middle of Route 9W in the Glenerie area while under the influence. Quigley said the man was twice Tasered by police during the incident but was still difficult to control.
“He was putting himself at risk and the drivers and passengers on both sides of the road at risk because there could have been an accident,” Quigley said. “The police responded, and from what I understand they had to use physical force to restrain the guy. And because of the effects of the drugs, we now have the possibility of injury to police officers.”
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Quigley said then-police chief Matthew Taggard suggested the supervisor look at a new law in the Town ofSaugerties.
“I read it and thought it was a good one,” Quigley said. “I’m going to support any action that is going to increase the safety of the town’s workforce. What focused the town, quite frankly, is that the Town ofSaugertiespassed a law in the early part of this year that allowed the Town of Saugerties Police Department to have the ability to take enforcement action.”
That law, which went into effect in Saugerties on March 29 of this year, banned the sale and possession of synthetic drugs which use any of 31 different substances, including the so-called “bath salts.”
“What happens is, one is banned and they change the compound a little bit and find a new way to sell it,” said Saugerties Town Supervisor Kelly Myers. “Our law tried to be as comprehensive as possible. The goal was that if the chemistry changed slightly the law would still be effective.”
As the proposed law in the Town of Ulster was inspired by similar legislation in Saugerties, Myers said Saugerties town officials were initially inspired by legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. In what may or may not be a coincidence, shortly after Saugerties filed its own law with the office of the Secretary of State in Albany, Schumer’s law was amended to include all 31 of the substances in the law Myers and her fellow council members had set forth.
“I don’t know if we had a direct influence with the way he formulated his proposal, but I’m happy he did it,” said Myers, adding that the town took the state law one step further and didn’t just ban the sale of the synthetic drugs; they also made it an offense to possess it.
“We don’t want people to use this stuff and get sick,” Myers said. “Really young people are having heart attacks and seizures and showing forms of psychosis. And they would come into the hospital sometimes and doctors would have a hard time diagnosing them.”
The proposed legislation in the Town ofUlsterlists 29 substances, along with regulation of loose leaf incense and other seemingly benign over-the-counter items.
In short, the proposed law would ban the sale, possession and use of any product containing the materials, compounds or preparations most often associated with synthetic cannabinoids. Possible penalties would be a fine of up to $250 and 30 days in jail for a first offense; $500 and 60 days in jail for a second offense; and $1,000 and a year in jail for a third offense.
If the Town of Ulster follows Saugerties’ lead, changes may be seen in the town before the law actually goes into effect.
“Even before the law was enacted, there was some voluntary compliance,” said Myers. “The Saugerties Police Department went and passed around copies of the law just before the public hearing. By the time we passed the law, there was enough public notice that retailers knew it was coming.”
That led to a brief but unfavorable side-effect: The fire sale.
“What was frustrating to me is that some of these places put the stuff on sale,” Myers said.
Quigley said he hoped the public hearing on the proposed law would allow area residents an opportunity to have their voices heard on the matter.
“I encourage people to download the law from the town’s website and read it,” Quigley said. “If we have a piece of legislation that has been extensively commented on, we go back and review it, and if necessary make corrections, which will in essence start the process over again.”
While the ban has already spread from Saugerties toward Ulster, it has yet to ignite debate in the City of Kingston.
“I have not seen any resolutions in committee nor have I seen any communications going to committee,” said Second Ward Alderman Tom Hoffay, majority leader of the city’s Common Council. “It hasn’t been discussed by any of the aldermen, but I’m sure it will be.”
The public hearing on the proposed legislation in the Town of Ulster is scheduled to take place at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6 in Town Hall. The proposed law can be reviewed at: https://www.townofulster.org/content/Generic/View/21:field=documents;/content/Documents/File/2039.pdf.