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March 29, 2019 - 9:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in marijuana, news, notify.


Chief Shawn Heubusch and Sheriff William Sheron at a Public Service Committee meeting in January.

Rather than a potential revenue windfall, marijuana legalization could drive up costs for county government, County Manager Jay Gsell warns, as the county will need to cope with several matters related to law enforcement, public health, and federal contracts.

He's concerned state officials pushing for legalization haven't fully thought through these issues.

"I see it mostly as there could be more negative cost implications to the county as far as what we'll be dealing with in terms of our social service agencies or treatment agencies, and the related people that are part of what we fund in county government, such as law enforcement, and the public health considerations, rather than, 'oh, I see this as just another nice thing to do -- a little bit of a revenue stream,' " Gsell said. "I just don't even see that happening per se."

State officials are talking about implementing a 2 percent or 4 percent sales tax on marijuana sales and remitting some portion of that tax to local jurisdictions that don't opt out of permitting sales.

Gsell said since consumption will be legal in all counties in the state, opting out of allowing local sales will really be just turning down whatever revenue a county might be able to recoup for the potential increase in expenses that go with legal pot.

Both Sheriff William Sheron and Batavia Police Chief Shawn Heubusch have publicly opposed legalization of marijuana, expressing concern about the potential for more highway fatalities, easier access to cannabis for teens, and the potential for increased crimes. Last month they shared these concerns with the county's Public Service Committee.

"The public safety issue is really what has law enforcement against it," Sheron said.

Both top cops have sent out press releases generated by their respective state law enforcement associations opposing legalized marijuana. In both cases, the Sheriff and the Police Chief say that marijuana-related traffic deaths have increased in Colorado since recreational use of cannabis became legal.

However, various reports available online contradict this assertion.

The Colorado Springs Gazette reported last summer that while the number of fatal accidents where some trace of marijuana was present in one or more of the drivers involved had increased, fatalities in accidents where a driver was considered impaired by marijuana dropped significantly, from 52 in 2016 to 35 in 2017.

The Reason Foundation compiled a comprehensive report on driving and marijuana use that also suggested there is little correlation between legalized marijuana and increased traffic fatalities. Reason also found some data to suggest that legalized marijuana helps reduce drunken driving fatalities either because people consume less alcohol or since states like Colorado ban public consumption of marijuana, people who mix alcohol and marijuana are more likely to do so at home.

On the law enforcement front, a report from Police Quarterly, cited in a story from the Seattle Times, said that legalized marijuana seems to correlate to high clearance rates (cases solved) for reported crimes as officers spend less time on drug offenses.

It might surprise some that Jeremy Almeter, owner of Glass Roots on Center Street, isn't exactly eager to start selling marijuana from his shop, should it become legal. But he does support legalization and takes issue with opponents who say marijuana will lead to more traffic accidents or that it's some sort of gateway drug.

"I've been hearing marijuana is a gateway drugs since I was a kid, and I can tell you that the only true gateway drug in our society right now is alcohol," Almeter said. "You know, nobody smokes a joint and then goes out and decides to rob a liquor store. Bad decisions are made by people when they're inebriated.

"You know they're making decisions that they wouldn't normally make. I have seen, firsthand, the effect of alcohol on people doing exactly that. I think marijuana is one of the safest plants on the planet. I think hemp is right in the same plant family and they both deserve access for every person on the planet.

"If they if they're helping you, great, but they've never killed anyone. How many people are we losing a year to drunken driving?"

Almeter added, "Alcohol kills 88,000 people a year. Cigarettes kill 480,000. Cannabis has never killed anybody."

Whether marijuana has ever killed anyone is a disputed assertion. Here's Politifact on the topic.

Dealing with drivers who are so high their ability is impaired, regardless of what the statistics out of Colorado and elsewhere say, is a major concern for both Sheron and Heubusch. The chemical test for driving under the influence of alcohol is pretty straightforward. Blood alcohol content is scientific, objective and reliable. Busting a driver impaired by marijuana is more of a judgment call, and getting such a charge to stick in court requires officers who are trained as drug recognition experts.

It's an expensive proposition to have a DRE on a department's force. The Sheriff's Office has six currently. Batavia PD, only two.

It takes an experienced officer six months of training before obtaining DRE certification.

"In the law enforcement realm, the DRE program is one of the most difficult and time-consuming certifications that you can obtain," said Undersheriff Bradley Mazur.

During a recent interview, Deputy Ryan DeLong (top photo), who is DRE certified, discussed the process involved in making an arrest of a driver suspected of driving while impaired by a drug.

First, there needs to be probable cause to make a traffic stop. Second, the officer must observe something about the driver that indicates he or she is either high or intoxicated. Then the officer can initiate a field sobriety test.

If the officer isn't DRE certified but has a good reason to believe the driver is impaired by marijuana or another drug, then the officer will require the assistance of a DRE officer.

"The first thing that we do really doesn't change and that's just the administration of standardized field sobriety testing," DeLong said. "At the roadside, we're doing the battery of tests --  horizontal nystagmus (follow a pen with your eyes), walk and turn, and the one-legged stand. If we determine that the person is intoxicated or impaired by drugs, we take them into custody and start the process of bringing in a drug recognition expert. The drug recognition expert's job is to do three things: Determine is a person impaired? Is the impairment a medical impairment or a drug-induced impairment? And what category of drug or drugs is a person under the influence of, and how the DRE determines that is a 12-step process."

The process involves question, observation, and chemical testing (and those results can take some time to come back from the lab).

"What we're looking for, is there an abnormal dilation of the pupil for the lighting conditions or an abnormal constriction of the pupil and also how the pupil will react to a light stimulus," DeLong said. "We're looking at their muscle tone. We're going to check to see where it's most rigid or flaccid. We're checking for any injection sites for intravenous drug use throughout this whole process, and also just conducting an interview as we're interacting with the person.

"We're looking for observable signs of a drug usage such as somebody being on the nod, as we call it, where they're basically falling asleep in front of us, or different body tremors, or different signs of impairment. If we determine that this person is under the influence of a drug and what category of drug they are under, they'll go for a blood test or spittle test and (depending on the results) they'll be charged accordingly."

When it comes to law enforcement, marijuana legalization and the correlating expenses, the potential need for more DREs, aren't the only concerns for the county.

The Sheriff's Office has two new K-9s coming into service and of course, today's K-9s are trained to detect marijuana. That's a skill a K-9 won't unlearn, so there is some question about whether weed-sniffing dogs can remain in service.

Gsell is also worried about how legalization might impact Federal grants. The county receives more than $11 million a year from the Federal government and many of those contracts are contingent on the county maintaining a drug-free environment. Even if the state decriminalizes cannabis, that won't change Federal law or policy.

"As far as where federal money is used to fund positions and things of that nature, we have to provide assurances, like we do with our CDL drivers at the County Highway Department, that there are random drug tests done and there is a zero tolerance with regard to persons having any of that stuff in their systems," Gsell said.

While the state is promising an increase in revenue if marijuana sales become legal, a share of that revenue will only be available to counties that don't opt-out of legal pot sales within their borders. Given the anticipated increase in expenses, Gsell suggested the county will have little choice to allow local sales even if the additional revenue doesn't totally offset the additional expenses.

"The prospect of revenue or increased revenue is an ephemeral situation at this point," Gsell said. "There's no way to predict what that is and the things that we see from the state are not what I would call vetted enough, nor necessarily what I believe is actually going to come to reality."

November 6, 2015 - 10:46am
posted by Daniel Jones in assemblyman steve hawley, Mike Ranzehnofer, marijuana.
Dear Assemblyman Hawley and Senator Ranzenhofer, I am writing you today as a constituent of your districts, but more importantly, as a citizen who is deeply concerned about the effects that a certain 9 decade long misguided policy is having on our communities, state and nation.  It has costed us on an economic and human level, but fixing it is entirely possible and doing so presents great opportunities. Gentlemen, it's time to legalize marijuana for all purposes, recreational and medicinal, because the pros of doing so are just plain trippy. "Whoa, pot, I dunno, I don't like drugs and that's definitely a gateway drug."  I'm sure you're thinking to yourselves, and given your more conservative than most constituencies even if in your hearts you favor this change, you're worried about the political impact.  So this is where you can convince them otherwise.  The notion that Cannabis is a gateway drug and therefore should be completely illegal is absolutely laughable given that alcohol is widely available and prescription barbiturates are just a visit to the doctor's office away.  There's five leaf smack down number one.  Given the provably negligible effects that come with pot use compared to the others, maybe it's time to just chill, man.   The reason for it's ban in the first place?  20th century newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was threatened by the possibility of hemp being a cheaper alternative to the paper that his advertisers specialized in.  Given that it was at the height of the also failed alcohol prohibition, it was easy to convinced an already whipped into a frenzy public that there was some imaginary danger to 'reefer madness'.  Yes, underage use is a concern, but does underage drinking a cause for ceasing sales of booze?  Nope, didn't think so.  Don't get too buzzed yet, though, we're just getting started. While you're putting that in your pipe and smoking it, bringing doobie out of the shadows will create an entirely new industry and greatly grow those that exist agriculture (wink wink, nudge nudge to farmers making up their minds on this), processing companies, distribution, retail and logistics.  Someone has to grow, move around, secure, store and sell the plant and it's various paraphernalia, and what do all of those activities end up producing?  Jobs, for every background and educational level, capital investments, construction and economic growth.  Business could boom in a rural area between Buffalo and Rochester like Batavia and I happen to know that both of you love private sector growth.  There are no silver bullets but it sure would be a boon.  Look at the states that have opted for full legalization, Colorado and Washington have both lowered their unemployment rate, and Colorado to one of the lowest in the country.  Rocky mountain high employment, so how long before we get in on the workforce pass-around? Still unconvinced about an update to the greenest of the green code?  Also, consider the cost of locking people over a plant product no more psychoactive than alcohol.  Hate excessive government spending?  How about $60k per year per inmate in New York State Correctional facilities in the sort of people that might end up becoming the American dream?  Our prisons are filled with offenders that enter prison for illegal possession of a non processed product and come out hardcore criminals who, guess what?  Re-enter prison and re offend, and end up costing us all another hefty amount of money to 're-habilitate' behind bars with violent offenders.  Not cool, dudes.  How is this productive?   Is this a proper use of taxpayer dollars?  Or could we find a way to generate revenues and encourage an entrepreneurial spirit that could revitalize our local economies?  States that have legalized marijuana have seen decreases in youth use rates for the drug, arrests and vehicle fatalities.  Roll up crime and put it up in smoke. New York State and the taxpayers that support it would stand to make tremendous gains from a financial perspective.  Colorado has seen over $66 million in extra sales tax revenues and imagine the impact in a  much more populated state like ours, and add an additional value added tax to help treat people addicted to hard-drugs like prescription painkillers (which unlike marijuana are dangerously addictive yet baffingly under-regulated), could provide some real relief  to John Q. Taxpayer.  Don't all of you Republicans just love delicious, fat, juicy tax cuts?  I'll bet you've got the munchies.  How about aid to local governments trying to pay their bills and deal with an economy that's changing around them?  Give them a shot in the arm and then maybe leave some money left over for hippie dippie stuff like hiring teachers.  Boring, I know, but that's the Democrat in me. Finally, in my hopes of converting conservatives like you both to this cause, I point you both to the free-market.  Good Republicans like you both shouldn't favor over-regulation, so why trample on personal choice in buying cannabis when alcohol and tobacco are flying off the shelves?  This time of year, people are getting boozier than ever and crashing their cars while drunk like this is a giant game of Mario Kart and puffing cigarettes like carcinoma never existed.  If that's going to be legal, whether you personally agree with this choice or not, why not at least be consistent?  We emphasize moderation in substances just as dangerous, so perhaps we can exit a non-working strategy and allow for some sweet sales tax revenue along with it. Your colleague in the Assembly, Crystal Peoples Stokes and in the Senate, Liz Krueger, are both carrying this bill in the New York State Legislature.  It would do them some good to get some help from self proclaimed free-market conservatives like yourselves to join with progressive Democrats in putting an end to needlessly locking people up for non-violent offenses, allow for lower unemployment and business growth and supporting local governments.  It's a victory for everyone, so put your lighters in the air even if you don't inhale. Sincerely, Daniel B. Jones Non pot smoker, but pass the Cheetos (and the bill) anyway Town of Batavia
December 28, 2009 - 12:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCASA, marijuana.

In a blog post, GCASA's executive director David Markham muses that perhaps society would be better off if marijuana were legal and taxed.

But it's no libertarian turn by Markham. He also suggests that the legal drinking age should be raised to 35.

Markham cites a recent study that looks at the benefitial impact of drinkers and drug users substituting cannabis.

I found this study interesting because I have observed the use of cannabis in my private practice clients who often report beneficial effects. It seems to me that cannabis is less toxic and has fewer behavioral and social negative consequences than alcohol. I have also noted that cannabis seems to have fewer adverse side effects and better symptom relief than prescription drugs.

October 12, 2009 - 11:16am
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, marijuana.

We saw a couple of busts this summer of people accused of growing pot, and of course the State Police flew its helicopter around looking for marijuana fields, but it turns out, increased domestic production maybe putting more hurt on Mexican drug cartels than years of "the war on drugs."

American pot growers now produce half of all the weed sold in the United States.

Contrary to traditional images of rural pot farming, small-scale production and indoor farming may have played a large role in the increased production. "While the trafficking of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine is the main focus of U.S. law enforcement, it is marijuana that has long provided most of the revenue for Mexican drug cartels," the reporters write.

And like Starbuck adjusting its brand to meet increased local competition, the drug cartels are changing the way they do business.

Mexican cartels are improving their product and streamlining delivery to compete with increased U.S. production, they report. The National Drug Intelligence Center says cartels are increasingly growing pot on public lands in the U.S. to move closer to the market.

Of course, state treasuries aren't seeing a dime of benefit from all of this commerce.

August 14, 2009 - 10:30am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, marijuana, State Police.

A few people had a question for us yesterday: Why was a State Police helicopter circling over the City of Batavia?

Answer: Marijuana eradication.

Rebecca Gibbons, spokeswoman for the State Police, just provided the answer.

"This is the time of year that it is very visible," Gibbons said.

The helicopter is in the air again today, but Gibbon's doesn't have information what areas it would be covering during its marijuana eradication mission.

April 22, 2009 - 1:25pm
posted by Billie Owens in batavia, steve hawley, marijuana.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley says he will vote against a bill aimed at legalizing marijuana for medical uses.

"I voted against it last year and unless something miraculous happens I'll be representing my constituents and their wishes and will be voting against it," said Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C Batavia).

Bill A07542 was submitted by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chairman of the Health Committee.

It would allow New Yorkers with serious medical conditions to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or possess up to 2.5 ounces of the weed. The bill includes legal protection for a patient's primary caregiver and physician. A similar proposal was previously passed by the Assembly only to die in the Senate.

Even though the bill hasn't cleared the Assembly yet, we have a call into Sen. Mike Ranzenhofer as well to check his position on the topic.  We will update this post with his response, should we get one.

Hawley said last year's bill had a number of problems. He thought it lacked sufficient controls and made marijuana too easy to get.

Thirteen states allow medicinal use of marijuana. According to a 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, "nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety. . .all can be mitigated by marijuana."


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