Many of the people who packed into the New Paltz village meeting room for the May 9 joint town-village meeting had one thing on their minds: stopping what they see as excessive citations of people for violations around alcohol, marijuana and noise. Speaking on their behalf, attorney Celeste Tesoriero presented a petition to that effect which had been signed online by 436 people as of the meeting. The petition seeks “a reasonable fine” in lieu of arrests for these “minor, non-violent, victimless offenses.”
Deputy Mayor KT Tobin spearheaded the response, which was focused on marijuana laws specifically. Possession of that drug in New York for amounts under 25 grams carries fines only for the first and second offenses, which are deemed violations rather than misdemeanors. According to her review of town court records, 97% of marijuana offenses result in adjournment in contemplation of dismissal.
Moreover, an attorney opinion indicates that to write a more lenient law locally would contravene “preemption doctrine,” and could be challenged by the attorney general.
Tobin said that it appeared likely that further reform of marijuana laws might come in Albany this year, and passed around copies of the report debunking the “gateway drug” myth published through the Benjamin Center, where she works. “Many of us are interested in this issue,” she said.
Ryan Verity, of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, expressed skepticism that change would come at the State level soon, saying that such a bill has languished in the assembly for “decades.”
Tesoriero took exception to the tight focus of Tobin’s approach, which did not touch upon alcohol or violations of the village noise ordinance. That piece of legislation has been a hot-button issue; the last time there was a push to change it then-trustee Brian Kimbiz ran a public campaign to thwart amendments he said would be discriminatory to those who stay awake at night. In the end, the only change that was made was to put up a few signs that requested passersby be a bit quieter.
“You’re begging to be replaced,” Tesoriero told the elected officials at last week’s joint meeting, most especially for too readily agreeing with an attorney opinion based on a very narrow question, in her view.
Others who spoke during public comment spoke of the high involvement of town police officers in these issues, and described an environment of excessive policing. Some tried to compare this issue to the same-sex weddings held in the village before same were legalized by court decision, a comparison which Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres called “disrespectful.”
“You’ve never been arrested,” replied Tesoriero.