District attorney says minor marijuana charges won't be prosecuted

Enterprise file photo — Sean Mulkerrin

Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

ALBANY COUNTY — You still can’t get caught smoking marijuana, but Albany County District Attorney David Soares said Thursday that his office will no longer prosecute cases that only involve possession of less than two ounces of the drug that has seen increasing support for legalization across the country.

Specifically, Soares’s office will decline to prosecute cases of Unlawful Possession of Marijuana, a violation that is subject to a fine, and Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fifth Degree, a misdemeanor, a finable offense that could come with jail time.

“What it doesn’t mean, is that an agency or an officer can’t use his discretion. If you want to exercise your discretion and engage in an arrest, that arrest can still be lawful, however, to engage in an arrest with no ultimate prosecution doesn’t seem to make much sense,” Soares said during a Thursday morning press conference.

In addition, he said that people charged in the past with  misdemeanor possession can apply to have their records sealed.

Years-old arrests for possession of a small amount of marijuana, Soares said, has stopped people from getting jobs.  There are more serious threats to the public health, Soares said, citing heroin and fentanyl.

Nine states have legalized marijuana in recent years, including two of New York’s neighbors, Massachusetts and Vermont.

In August, the state released a report that recommended legalizing marijuana, citing both economic and health benefits. Also that month, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed a workgroup to draft legalization legislation, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced that his office would decline to prosecute marijuana possession and smoking cases.

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