Law enforcement talk changes around recreational marijuana legalization


ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Albany County law enforcement say they’ve seen the writing on the wall for years as more and more states legalized recreational marijuana.

“Look, we’re going to be on our toes. We knew this was coming,” says Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple.

Apple says deputies have refrained from minor marijuana possession arrests for several years, in part with the expectation of New York’s inevitable legalization. He says for that reason, you won’t see a mass exodus from the Albany County jail now that the legislation passed Wednesday calls for expunged records or resentencing for cases that would fall under the new legal limits — like 3 ounces possession and growing limited plants at home.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to jail for having unlawful possession of marijuana. Having a small quantity, I don’t think anyone is in my jail today or has been for that alone. It may be affixed to something else, for instance a DWI, an assault, or something to that effect,” Apple explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares says his office has worked with offenders for around a decade expunging minor charges under the correct circumstances. He says the new recreational marijuana legislation now gives the Division of Criminal Justice Services the main job of looking through case files and making the appropriate expungements. For his office, it makes the existing pricess automatic and easier.

“You can reach out to our Legal Affairs office and we will walk you through the process of getting your criminal history expunged and sealed, where possible,” Soares says.

“I would urge everyone to call and make sure everything appropriate from your record is completely correct. When you’re in a job interview after your record’s been cleared and they ask if you’ve ever been prosecuted with a crime, you can legally say no. That’s why it’s important to check first, because you would hate to not get that job because the process hasn’t cleared yet and so you appear to have misrepresented yourself,” Soares goes on to explain.

DA Soares and Sheriff Apple both say they support wiping out cases that may have affected community members unfairly for years or even decades.

“There are people who may have made that mistake when they were 18, 19 and they are in their 40s now as parents who can’t move forward with their career and their educations,” Soares says.

“These low level charges have ruined a lot of lives, so yes this will be affirming. This will also right somewhat of a wrong,” Apple agrees.

Soares also says he’s a big supporter for making sure the 13% tax on future licensed marijuana sales will go to the right places.

“We need to go to these neighborhoods that have been the targets of this war on marijuana, and make sure that money the state takes in, a portion of it goes back to rebuilding these communities that have been broken down,” he says. “Also making sure it’s not going into neighborhoods that have now been gentrified. Here in Albany even, the Ten Broeck Triangle today is not the same Ten Broeck Triangle of 2010 or the 90s.”

There’s also work to do breaking old habits now that public marijuana consumption is fair game.

“You’re going to see training. We are going to be providing training. What was probable cause last year is no longer probable cause this year,” Soares says.

There’s also concerns and questions that need answers. These law enforcers say without clear methods to identify impaired drivers, marijuana use on the roads could turn into a huge problem.

“If you took blood from somebody and they had THC in them, it could be from 16, 17 days ago,” Apple explains.

“New York is one of the few that requires you specifically name what that person is impaired on,” Soares says. “You can have a body cam and the body cam is going to show that a person was impaired, but if you are unable as law-enforcement to name what that person has consumed, you can’t really charge them.”

Apple says his department has its eyes on a California company Hound Labs that makes a breathalyzer that could detect THC within three hours of consumption. However, the technology is expensive and funding hasn’t been hashed out yet. They say it may come down to how New York revises the law in the future and how municipalities write their own ordinances.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and as creative policymakers, we’ll figure that out,” Soares says.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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