Village Ponders Passing Softer Pot Penalty

A proposed municipal ordinance could effectively decriminalize minor marijuana possession in the Village of New Paltz.

Local officials have discussed enacting an ordinance that would offer law enforcement an alternative to standard marijuana possession arrest procedures. Under the local law, residents would be ticketed instead of arrested for possession under 25 grams or smoking in public. Local attorney Celeste Tesoriero spearheaded the initiative. 

“The current practices are not in line with what we claim this town cares about,” Tesoriero said. “People in our community, who are doing something most don’t consider criminal, would no longer be treated as criminals.” 

Tesoriero created an online petition, at Stopthearrests.com, where she gathered 455 signees. The page claims that 1,167 arrests occur annually, with half of them attributed to alcohol, noise and marijuana possession. It aimed to stop the arrests and criminal charges for “non-violent and victimless crimes.” 

The ordinance is modeled after section 14-5, of Offenses and Miscellaneous Provisions, in the City of Poughkeepsie. Under this law, “A person is guilty of loitering when he or she loiters or remains in a public place for the purpose of possessing or using marijuana or a controlled substance.” If this policy is adopted, residents could sidestep the court process, plead guilty through mail, and pay the fine like a normal ticket. 

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) lawyer David Holland was recruited by Tesoriero to explain the impacts marijuana arrests can have on people . NORML’s mission is to “move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers…”

“[Current NYS penal law] has massive implications to the future of a college student,” Holland said. “If you’re convicted of even smoking a joint, you could get your college funds pulled.”

Under New York State Penal Law, Article 221.05 , Unlawful Possession of Marijuana (UPM) under 25 grams is a violation punishable by no more than a $100 fine. According to Tesoriero, while a violation won’t go on your permanent record, evidence of the arrest itself is still documented. This information can be detrimental for residents’ future employment and other opportunities. Additionally, there are means for a person to expunge their record after a period of time.  

According to Village Board Liaison Don Kerr, the proposition was almost unanimously supported by village board members. One of his biggest concerns is the time and resources required for traditional UPM procedures. 

“It’s a real waste of money and professional time,” Kerr said. “If we know that marijuana will likely be decriminalized anyway, why are we putting people in the back of cop cars?” 

Skeptics have argued that the ordinance is unnecessary since most UPM charges are dismissed with an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). This allows the court to  dismiss someone’s charges under the condition that they do not conduct additional criminal activity in a set period of time. However, Kerr claims that processing an ACD take roughly an hour of professional time, omitting pay for court employees and police time, making it an unnecessary expenditure. 

The Village of New Paltz Board of Trustees will meet on Nov. 14 to further discuss the ordinance with the City of Poughkeepsie’s corporate counsel Paul Ackerman.