DA to hold meetings on legal weed, rethink policies

Enterprise file photo
P. David Soares, Albany County's district attorney, has scheduled a series of community meetings on enforcement of marijuana laws.

ALBANY COUNTY – Before the haze that is wafting westward settles on New York State, Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares will hold a series of rap sessions in local communities to discuss what legalizing marijuana would mean for residents.

Massachusetts and Vermont have legalized marijuana for recreational use, so, it’s only a matter of time, said Soares, a Democrat, before New York State takes its turn toking up.

Before that happens, Soares said, there will be a “policy shift in the enforcement procedures” in Albany County, but, before that, he wants community input.

The meetings, which will take place this month, will be an opportunity for residents to ask questions or raise concerns that they have about legal weed.

“The question that we have to ask ourselves, those of us who are in the waiting position now, is: What are we going to do in the meantime as our leaders develop state laws and regulations?” Soares asked. “And what we have done in the past, prior to movement on the Rockefeller Drug Laws, is we’ve exercised prosecutorial discretion and developed policies where we’ve enabled more individuals to get treatment as opposed to incarceration.”

In the 1960s, drug addiction was treated as a medical problem in New York, and Nelson Rockefeller, the state’s liberal-leaning Republican governor at the time, was a champion of that approach. By the ’70s, some neighborhoods were rife with vacant, decaying buildings – resembling urban ruins.

Attitudes about drugs and crime changed, and, in 1973, the “Rockefeller Drug Laws” were passed, which set strict sentencing guidelines and created mandatory-minimum sentences of 15 years to life for possession of a small amount of drugs.

Soares also said that, before there is any adoption of marijuana laws by New York State, his office will go back and look at the cases that it has prosecuted and provide opportunities, to the extent law enables it, for expungement or sealing of records.

Soares said, through decriminalization and regulation, more funds could be freed up to combat the opioid epidemic. New York City alone would see a $400 million increase in sales-tax revenue, he said.

Locally, Soares will hold community meetings at the Berne Public Library on Monday, June 11, at 6 p.m.; the Guilderland Public Library on Wednesday, June 13, at 6 p.m.; and, at the Bethlehem Public Library on Wednesday, June 20, at 6 p.m.

There is also a survey available on district attorney’s website for those who can’t make any meetings: www.albanycountyda.com.

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