Attorney for pro-marijuana group advises New Paltz to ease up on enforcement

New Paltz Police Chief Joe Snyder and attorney David Holland, Empire State National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Executive & Legal Director. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

David Holland, executive and legal director of the Empire State chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was a special guest at last week’s joint meeting of the New Paltz Town and Village Boards, where an extended discussion was held on possible options for reducing the prosecution of Ulster County residents for possession of small quantities of cannabis. Holland was invited to speak at the suggestion of local attorney Celeste Tesoriero, who has alleged that students and people of color are unfairly targeted under current arrest protocols, based on data that she has amassed by filing Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with various law enforcement agencies in the county. Tesoriero says that in New Paltz, a black person is eight times more likely to be arrested for Unlawful Possession of Marijuana (UPM) than a white person. Also on hand for the discussion were a number of law enforcement agents, including New Paltz Police chief Joseph Snyder and Ulster County assistant district attorney Joey Drillings.

Village trustee KT Tobin noted that both boards had already passed a joint resolution supporting legislation at the state level to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession and private use. But until such a statewide change takes place, municipalities and their law enforcement agencies are bound by requirements that persons arrested for marijuana must appear in court. If convicted, they can be stripped of eligibility for such benefits as scholarships, student loans, food stamps and Section 8 housing, and be put in peril of deportation if their immigration status is still in process. Holland pointed out that, unlike losing one’s driver’s license for amassing 11 points’ worth of speeding tickets, “New York State doesn’t have an expungement mechanism” whereby such eligibility can be restored over time. Moreover, unlike drinking and driving, traces of cannabis can remain in the bloodstream for up to 30 days after use, even though the individual’s ability to drive safely is no longer impacted.

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To avoid consequences that outweigh the seriousness of the crime, many regional courts offer people detained for UPM a type of plea bargain called Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD), in which the charges are dropped if the person stays out of trouble for six months. “ACDs are given out much more routinely now,” noted Holland. “Police chiefs are more willing to discuss it. It’s unprecedented as compared to five years ago.” Two of New York City’s five boroughs now have a policy of non-enforcement in cases where the only charge is UPM, he said.

Arresting someone on a misdemeanor charge of UPM is “a waste of resources if the district attorney is going to dismiss it anyway,” Holland argued. “How much time is taken up writing up the ticket, taking someone down to the station, having them make a court appearance, filing papers with the county clerk? What is the cost to the community?” He recommended an alternative approach in which, short of full legalization, UPM is included under the category of “quality of life” offenses under a local ordinance, comparable to littering or loitering. Under such an arrangement, the offender could be ticketed, plead guilty by mail and pay a fine that would accrue to the coffers of the municipality, rather than the county court system.

The prospect of a solution to the problem of overzealous policing of what is widely perceived today as a very minor offense that also would create a new revenue stream for towns and villages piqued the interest of several board members. In order to “get to a situation where people are fined,” Village trustee Don Kerr suggested that the Ulster County District Attorney appoint a part-time assistant to preside in New Paltz one night per month over all marijuana-related arrests made by all four of the police agencies with jurisdiction in the town. Holland thought that police officers themselves should be empowered to write a ticket instead of making an outright arrest for a UPM.

“The town and village attorneys would have to look at that,” responded Chief Snyder to the idea of a local ordinance putting more discretionary power in the hands of the arresting officer. He suggested that other “nuisance” offenses such as carrying an open alcohol container on the street should also fall under such a local law, noting that when his officers are having a busy night, they typically only ask open-container offenders to pour out the contents of their beverages and don’t arrest them if they are compliant. “This would give us another tool,” Snyder said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Some of the officials present expressed doubts that such a local ordinance could supersede state policies while cannabis remains classified as a controlled substance at the state level. “I spoke to a special prosecutor,” said Town Board member Dan Torres. “There are a number of reasons why that doesn’t work.” ADA Drillings argued that reducing a UPM charge to the equivalent of a parking ticket was properly the domain of a special prosecutor, saying, “I’ve never seen an ordinance when there’s already a state law.” But he also rejected Kerr’s idea of a dedicated ADA for New Paltz as too costly. Questions were also raised as to the ethical implications of determining priorities for law enforcement officers. “As the Town Board, we can’t tell the police what kind of ticket they’re allowed to write,” said town supervisor Neil Bettez.

No specific actions were taken at the meeting, but Holland was invited to draft a model local ordinance that he thought would be likely to withstand a legal challenge from another jurisdiction, based on his many years of working as an attorney for NORML. “Make some suggestions,” said village mayor Tim Rogers.

There are 9 comments

  1. Augustus Owsley Stanley III

    Four police agencies in New Paltz? Two municipal governments? Twelve elected officials, town clerk and town highway department superintendent included? One State institution solely contained within a territory not required to exist by state law. Landlords and landladies with conflicts of interest up the wazoo running a quasi-judical real property grievance board. Beats any acid-bummer trip I’ve ever been on.

  2. s.u.n.y. class of 2016

    Amazing New York State Marijuana illegial. Glad i moved to Denver Colorado for graudate work where i smoke the best weed daily, 100% totally legal, i enjoy buying my pot in a fantastic store where we have 57 strains.

    New Paltz and New York, Gov Cuomo a conservative democrat, will never legalize pot.

    Enjoy your enforcement, i will smoke a nice joint in memory of S.U.N.Y. new paltz 4 years of new paltz was enough.

    The weed here in Colorado is the best. People here truly laugh at N.Y. pot laws.

    Gay marriage more important than legal weed in New Paltz, thanks green party, You did great.

    1. Village Taxpayers Disunion

      I am coming to join you, even if I have to pay one more year of taxes before the house gets sold!

  3. Victor E Ofthepeople

    I don’t want this garbage in my town. I live in an apartment complex in New Paltz, legalize small quantities and I have to smell and breath marijuana coming threw my air ducts and not only choking me out, but my kids too? Walking down the street in New Paltz, I have to pass people smoking marijuana too, and the police’s can’t do anything about it due to some local ordinance? This is not a black, white, or racial issue, you people really need to wake up. Marijuana is ILLEGAL, if you grow, distribute, and/or smoke it, you WILL be arrested and go to jail PERIOD! If anything, drug laws need to be tighted and more restrictive.

    Why does it seem that every person that is in favor of Marijuana legalization has a PhD in Pharmacology?

    Now don’t get me wrong, if I could smoke a joint and suddenly gain 10 IQ points, I’d be in favor of marijuana legalization, but besides everything you are hearing in the media and from this so-called ‘Pro-Marijaua Attorney’ NOTHING and I mean NOTHING good comes from smoking marijuana.

    1. npz liberal

      Hi Victor E Ofthepeople Mabey Your mentally ill and need tratement, call 911 for help if your delisuions continue.

      If You dont like the smell of marijuana stuff cotton in your nose or cover your facewith a mask. Do us a favor, thanks

    2. The Ghost of Franklin

      Victor in 1928 –

      I don’t want this garbage in my town. I live in an apartment complex in New Paltz, legalize small quantities and I have to smell and breath alcohol coming threw my air ducts and not only choking me out, but my kids too? Walking down the street in New Paltz, I have to pass people drinking alcohol too, and the police’s can’t do anything about it due to some local ordinance? This is not a black, white, or racial issue, you people really need to wake up. Alcohol is ILLEGAL, if you produce, distribute, and/or drink it, you WILL be arrested and go to jail PERIOD! If anything, prohibition laws need to be tightenedd and more restrictive.

      Why does it seem that every person that is in favor of prohibition repeal has a PhD in Pharmacology?

      Now don’t get me wrong, if I could drink a beer and suddenly gain 10 IQ points, I’d be in favor of prohibition repeal, but besides everything you are hearing in the media and from this so-called ‘Pro-Alcohol Attorney’ NOTHING and I mean NOTHING good comes from drinking alcohol.

      I know you’re a troll Vic but I took the bait, if you don’t like the smell of smoke, pot or otherwise, move to a complex that doesn’t allow it or buy a house. If you support marijuana prohibition you support putting people in cages at the barrel of a gun for possessing a plant. People need to realize that when they advocate for any law they are advocating the use of state violence against someone else, in this case a non-violent individual assuming the pot is their only crime. Legal does not equal moral, illegal does not equal immoral.

  4. Quid Pro Quim

    Who is the town attorney? How much will it cost? Who is the village attorney and how much will it cost? How much did this meeting cost and why do we need a village government anyways? That’s the reason to get out of New York State, its on the list of those that cannot support themselves, like Rhode Island, California, Oregon, Arizona. Mass and Maine are can support themselves, like Colorado can, and they have legal weed. Man, I must be stoned? I mean, even Freud was into cocaine until he botched up an eye surgery.

  5. s.u.n.y calss of 2016

    Cuomo is a real foolish conservative democrat, a text book moron. He will never legalize pot in NY if he ever does it will take 20 years.

    i could not even imagine being arrested by the cops for pot, i buy it in the store every day here in Colorado. it feels Fantastic as a Daily heavy Pot smoker Lving here, buying my weed legally, Fantastic quality!!!

    Doing Graduate work here Denver and if i never see N.Y. again that is a good thing.

    People here laugh at N.Y.

    we could not even imagine weed not legal and the cops and courts punishing citizens for weed.

    New Paltz a Nazi Town if Weed Not Fully Legal. New York A Nazi State Where Cops Arrest You For Pot…….

  6. Balaam's Ass

    God made marijuana, poppies and cactus button peyote. They are all Kosher and parve. Man and his ole lady were thrown out of the Garden of Eden for not following dietary restrictions, and there is no prohibition from God against these plants. Just remember what happened to Noah. Being the first distiller, he didn’t know what he was getting into, but it was the behavior of his son for not respecting his father that was the meaning of that tale.

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