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CAPITAL REGION, NY (WRGB) — Saugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra put an order out to his department on April 9th of last year not to seize cannabis from those under 21 who possess three ounces or less. He says it’s a question of civil liability–the officer could be sued, and the agency could be sued–and the taxpayer would end up footing the bill.
Chief Sinagra wants to see a cannabis version of the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control legislation, which spells out penalties. He says under the old law, before pot was decriminalized, unlawful possession of marijuana clearly gave law enforcement the ability to seize and issue an appearance ticket. But he says now they have no authority to do that for the under-21 crowd–even though he’s been trying for more than a year to get the law clarified by the legislature.
“If we were to seize cannabis, from a person who’s less than 21, and it was three ounces or less, the legal limit, we in essence would be stealing the cannabis from that individual, because the law doesn’t say we can take it,” he said. “The law also does not say that we can issue an appearance ticket for the person to come into court.”
Attorney Andrew Botts of the Tully Rinckey law firm agrees that there’s nothing in the law that tells law enforcement what to do. He says the loophole should potentially be closed.
“If they execute an arrest without, you know, the backing of the penal law or some other area of law that says that that act is criminal, and it is something you can execute an arrest for, and they go ahead and execute that arrest without that law backing that up, then certainly that arrest could be overturned as well,” Botts said.
Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly says she thinks that while the law needs to be clarified, the intent is to keep cannabis out of the hands of anyone under the age of 21 , although she adds in her county prosecution is decided on a case-by-case basis.
“Personal use of marijuana, the criminalization of that, was never really something that law enforcement expended a lot of energy focusing on. It’s the criminality that surrounds the trade of marijuana and the sale of marijuana that is a concern to law enforcement now…” she said.
Chief Sinagra says compare this to a 21-year-old caught possessing or consuming alcohol –there’s a specific law that allows a police officer to seize the alcohol and issue an appearance ticket. He says that’s what he’s been waiting for since the cannabis legislation passed in March. He adds that there is a different section of law that covers underage marijuana possession as a civil penalty but he says it does not give police the authority to impose that penalty, so their hands are tied there, too.