News10NBC investigates number of tickets issued for unlawful possession of marijuana

February 26, 2019 08:55 AM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- Chances are marijuana is going to be legal in New York state before the summer. But there are all kinds of issues. 

Police are worried about safety. Doctors are worried about addiction. Cities and counties wonder if they'll be allowed to generate tax money.


The News10NBC investigative team wanted to know what exactly does legal mean? And what difference is it going to make to police and the people they arrest right now? 

One of the things that's going to be legal is a small amount of marijuana that someone can have and use inside a home. Right now, that's called unlawful possession of marijuana.

News10NBC tracked the tickets issued in Monroe County to see how many people that's affecting.

What we found is not what we expected to see.

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "What happened to you?"

Sebastian Caldarelli, ticketed for UPM: "I got pulled over and I had just left a friend's house."

News10NBC met Sebastian Caldarelli at Brockport Village Court. He was there because he got arrested for possessing marijuana.

He got busted when police say he was driving and made an illegal turn. He told us he was coming from helping a friend at his friend's house. Caldarelli said his friend paid him back with a small amount of marijuana.  

"Don't know how it made the car smell or anything but the moment you open the window it was like -- where's the weed?" he said. 

Caldarelli was one of 30 people ticketed for marijuana in Brockport last year. 

We asked just about every police department in Monroe County, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and the RPD -- how many tickets did you give for marijuana possession last year? 

Here are the results: 

Gates Police: 45
Brighton Police: 18
Brockport Police: 30
Irondequoit Police: 36
Webster Police: 21 (Down from 25)
Greece Police: 59
Fairport Police: 3
Ogden Police: 35 (Down from 58)
Monroe County Sheriffs: 115 (2017) , 76 (2018)        

Rochester Police have not provided their numbers yet. 

Each ticket was for violating section 221.05 of state law and what would be legal in New York is low-level possession like that. 

"I think that would be great, to be honest," Caldarelli said. "I know a lot of people around here are against it especially older folks, but across the country, it's been happening." 

Ten states have de-criminalized marijuana.

Forbes report predicts eight others including New York will do it this year. 

Gates Police Chief Jim VanBrederode is the head of the police chief's association in Monroe County. 

Brean: "The number struck us as kind of low. We thought we'd see more than that. Gates last year -- 45. Less than one a week."

Chief Jim VanBrederode, Gates Police Department: "Yeah the tickets, that's a simple marijuana possession charge. So in other words, somebody was stopped for whatever reason and in their pocket, they had a low-level amount of marijuana and there was no other charge or no other crime involved. That's a simple marijuana ticket and we had 45 of those. But again, I think what you don't see are the ones that started with a marijuana investigation that then lead to a felony or lead to a DWI."

When you count those, the number of marijuana possession charges in Gates goes up to 82. 

The local chiefs and sheriffs have issued multiple warnings about what they predict are the dangers of legal marijuana. 

"Law enforcement's message is a safe society is a sober society," Chief VanBrederode said. 

Brean: "When you came to court today, was there any part in the back of your mind that thought, well this is going to be legal, potentially, pretty soon, maybe they'll just kind of toss this." 

Caldarelli: "That was my thought entirely."

Watch News10NBC's follow up story where they find out what happens after someone gets arrested for marijuana possession.


Berkeley Brean

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