Changes in policing after recreational marijuana becomes legal

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LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) – Recreational marijuana became a legal product in New York State on Wednesday. The law legalizing the drug also creates changes to how policing will be done in some instances.

“This is a significant change from what we’ve done,” explained Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti.

For example, as told by Filicetti, the law impacts what police can and cannot do when they smell burnt cannabis in a car.

“(It) basically says you can use the smell of burnt marijuana only for the purposes of detecting impaired driving,” he said. “It is no longer permissible to use that for probable cause for a search of a vehicle.”

Filicetti said he has distributed initial guidance on the changes to his road patrol deputies. The law, signed by Governor Cuomo on Wednesday, permits people 21 and older to possess up to three ounces of cannabis. Several law enforcement officials across the state have expressed concerns with the measure, specifically citing safety on the roads and impaired driving.

“If everybody smoked a joint at home and stayed home, I wouldn’t be concerned. But we know that’s not going to happen,” predicted Filicetti.

“There’s no easy way to test. We have to take that individual to a hospital and draw blood and get a urine sample. All those things take time. It’s going to tie up my deputies longer on these arrests,” added the sheriff, who is concerned that this will tax the forensic lab as well.

The law does call for a controlled study into impaired driving, but Filicetti believes that should have been conducted before marijuana was legalized. The sheriff also wonders whether this will impact his agency’s relationship with the feds.

“In this law, we can’t enforce aspects that are now legal in New York State and work along with our federal partners,” he said. “We need to look at those agreements as well.”

Brian Zeybel, the sheriff of Warren County, Pa. points out the drug is still illegal in his jurisdiction. So he recommends any Southern Tier residents in New York State be careful while crossing the state line.

“Plain view or not, it would be a crime in Pennsylvania,” Zeybel said of marijuana possession.

Sheriff Zeybel recommended New Yorkers carrying marijuana go through a “mental checklist” before crossing the the state line.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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