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Albany County DA Will No Longer Prosecute Simple Possession Of Marijuana Cases

A change is coming to the way marijuana possession cases are handled in Albany County.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares says beginning next month, his office will decline to prosecute cases solely involving possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana, roughly equivalent to personal use.     "That means that a person who is charged with Article 22105 of the penal law will no longer be prosecuted in Albany County moving forward effective December 1st, 2018. It also means anyone with possession under 2 ounces as articulated in Article 221.10 a B misdemeanor, you will also not be prosecuted in Albany County."

Soares explained the new policy comes about "as we move into a new era of legal marijuana usage" and following a number of public meetings the DA held across the county. The Democrat was explicit as to what the December 1 policy shift does NOT mean:   "It does not mean that an individual can freely burn marijuana in public in the presence of other citizens and not expect to be prosecuted. Anyone openly smoking in Albany County will still be prosecuted by our office. It does not mean that you can operate a motor vehicle under the influence and not be prosecuted. One of the other announcements that I'm making here today is that we are applying DWAI, Driving While Ability Impaired, to our already formidable policy. In addition, anyone who is consuming marijuana, smoking marijuana in the presence of children, will be prosecuted by this office."

As for people affected by marijuana arrests in the past,Soares encourages them to look into the Clean Slate program to expunge past convictions, and says there’s a link to apply on the DA's website.   "The average user that we're seeing coming in through our courts are not the people that our energy, our resources should be spent on."

Alice Green, executive director of Albany’s Center For Law and Justice, welcomes the policy change and says she's happy Soares listened to input from the public meetings.    "Marijuana arrests and prosecution have always been a major concern to the community because the laws have been applied selectively to particularly African-Americans, and they suffer from disparate treatment. And also this give us hope that in this state we are moving toward legalization of marijuana. You know District Attorney Soares is head of the District Attorneys Association, and I hope that this will encourage many more counties to move in this direction. So we're very very happy to hear this and we're also happy to know that he would work with people who have been convicted under the Clean Slate program."

Soares believes eliminating prosecuting low-level offenders will free up time and personnel at crime labs, expediting more serious criminal investigations. 

A public meeting to discuss marijuana laws in Albany County is set for December 12th at 6 p.m. at the main branch of the Albany Public Library.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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