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Jun 28, 2012 4:06 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Cuomo's Marijuana Bill Generates Mixed Reactions From State Senate Candidates

Jul 3, 2012 3:04 PM

The recently failed attempt by Governor Andrew Cuomo to reduce the number of people arrested for marijuana possession under stop-and-frisk police tactics has generated varying views among candidates in the race for the 1st Senate District on Long Island.

Earlier this month, the governor proposed legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view; offenders would be charged with a violation rather than a misdemeanor criminal charge. The measure was approved in the State Assembly but failed to gain traction with Republicans in the State Senate and died when the legislative session ended last week with the bill still in a Senate committee. Advocates of such a bill have claimed that minorities in the city have been charged more frequently with crimes following stop-and-frisk police activities.

Longtime Republican New York State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle doesn’t support the measure, said Drew Biondo, a spokesman in his office on Thursday. “It’s largely a New York City issue,” he said. “And I think you’ve seen in recent headlines the amount of drugged and drunk driving going on. We don’t want to do anything that would contribute to that.”

Jennifer Maertz, a Democrat from Rocky Point who is seeking to challenge Mr. LaValle a second time this fall, said she supports the governor’s measure, which she said corrects a loophole in the current law that “is essentially a form of entrapment that disproportionately affects minority youth.”

Currently, marijuana in open view is a misdemeanor, while concealed marijuana is considered a violation, said Ms. Maertz. During stop-and-frisks, police officers ask individuals to empty their pockets; when they comply, it makes any concealed marijuana public, and gives officers the option of charging the individual with the misdemeanor count rather than a violation, she said.

“Unfortunately, this simple issue is being warped for political purposes in an election year,” Ms. Maertz said in an email. “Our governor is not suggesting the legalization of any substance, but merely differentiating a misdemeanor from a violation based on the acts of the individual charged with possession rather than based on the actions of the police officer. A violation should not become a misdemeanor based on the demands of the law enforcement official conducting a stop and frisk.”

Ms. Maertz and fellow Democratic Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming will face off in a primary for the chance to unseat Mr. LaValle in November.

The measure isn’t a priority for Suffolk County residents, said Ms. Fleming on Monday. She would not directly answer if she would vote for or against the measure if elected state senator, emphasizing that the bill is a moot issue at this point.

“I would have to look at the impact on Suffolk County citizens, but with the status of the initiative being where it is, I can definitely tell you as a former prosecutor, I would not put my effort toward reducing the penalties for drug possession,” she said.

In 2010, 54,813 people were arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to data from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, according to a copy of the legislation. Of those, 30,383 arrests took place in New York City. Each arrest costs between $1,000 and $2,000, according to a figure from Queens College professor Dr. Harry Levine.

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said he did not vote in favor of the bill because it sends a mixed message.

“First of all, I don’t see it as a major issue in our part of the world,” he said. “To put it in a nutshell, just to give you kind of the concept, on Friday I was at the Riverhead Middle School for their … ‘Say No to Drugs’ march, where all the politicians get up and say to the kids, ‘just say no to drugs.’”

Southampton Town Police Chief William Wilson Jr. said he doesn’t see a problem with the law, as long as laws against smoking it in public and driving under the influence of marijuana stay intact.

“From what I understand they’re still going to leave the public usage of marijuana as a crime, which I agree with, no different than consuming alcohol in public is against most city town and village codes,” he said. “Other than that, I don’t really have an opinion.”

East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr. emphasized that it’s more of a New York City issue and expressed similar opinions on keeping strict laws against smoking in public.

“It doesn’t affect us as much,” he said. “And I’m glad they’re not toying with the legalization of smoking it in public, because I think that would be a real problem.”

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By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 28, 12 11:13 PM
Minorities are breaking the law more than whites so lets make a misdemeanor a violation? Why not make it a felony so these people stop using drugs.How about we legalize cocaine and prostitutes and get rid of the cops?
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jun 30, 12 12:03 AM
Sure lets build schools so we can throw the stoned kids in them. Can anyone see why we are not even the top 25 in education in the worlds rankings? The answer is low morals, and low liberal values that are destroying this country. Ms Maertz says they aren't legalizing a drug? What they are doing is basically saying there is no accountability for having drugs. This country is dopey enough we don't need legalized pot.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 1, 12 6:32 PM
The first time Ms. Maertz goes to the annual Riverhead CAP "Just Say No" to drugs march she can tell the grade schoolers why she voted "yes".
By shadow captain (34), sag harbor on Jun 30, 12 10:59 AM
Time for Ken to turn out the light and go night-night. Congrats to Jennifer Maertz for her rational analysis and response. Where does Bridget Fleming stand on this question?
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jun 30, 12 5:44 PM
Alcohol is a drug!

A drug, broadly speaking, is any substance that, when absorbed into the body of a living organism, alters normal bodily function.

So where do all you Alcoholics get off criticizing Cannabis when Booze is far more dangerous, deadly and destructive to humans and their lives.

By this logic we should start locking up All the drug addicts at bars, wineries and fairs. to save ourselves the DWIs, Accidents, Fights, public urination, so on and so forth.

There ...more
By SilverFreak (1), SH on Jul 3, 12 11:02 AM
1 member liked this comment
If a cop tells you to empty your pockets and then charges you a misdemeanor for public view, that IS entrapment. The Chief of the N.Y.P.D. even said so and that is why the police in New York were instructed not to charge misdemeanor. Cuomo is trying to fix a non-existant problem.
Entrapment is doing something at the request of a police officer that you normally would not do.
What most of the misdemeanor arrest come from is probably after a police officer observes a street corner marijuana ...more
By Spinny OHO (94), Speonk on Jul 3, 12 12:47 PM