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News10NBC investigates what happens after you're charged with marijuana possession

February 26, 2019 08:54 AM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- In Buffalo, the mayor ordered his police to stop charging people with low-level possession of marijuana.

The Erie County District Attorney wants existing cases thrown out. 

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That's not happening here. 

People in the Rochester area are still getting arrested for small amounts of marijuana, ordered to court and facing a $100 fine. 

That's why our investigative news team wanted to find out what happens after a person is arrested for marijuana possession and what is going to be the biggest change if it is legal. 

There is virtually no one in the Monroe County Jail for simple marijuana possession.

A check of the jail census at 6 p.m. Monday showed zero inmates for unlawful possession of marijuana. News10NBC found one last week.

The practice of the Monroe County District Attorney's Office is to basically dismiss the ticket if a defendant agrees to a drug assessment. 

So the biggest change we could find if marijuana is made legal is the money. 

"Got pulled over and I had, what, probably .5 of weed on me," Sebastian Caldarelli admitted to News10NBC. 

But that was enough to get Caldarelli arrested for unlawful possession of marijuana.

News10NBC met him in Brockport Village Court the day he was ordered to show up. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley 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.'"

Sebastian Caldarelli, ticketed for UPM: "That was my thought entirely."

His case wasn't thrown out. But in Monroe County, cases like Caldarelli's come pretty close.

News10NBC learned that when News10NBC's Jennifer Lewke questioned the district attorney on how her office handles low-level marijuana charges.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke: "What does the law say about that?"

Sandra Doorley, Monroe County District Attorney: "If you're found with just a small amount it's a UPM or unlawful possession of marijuana and it's not a jailable offense, it's a fineable offense. So if someone comes in with a ticket for possessing marijuana, we usually will ask them to get an evaluation to make sure they don't have any other addictions and then we dismiss it with an ACD." 

ACD means adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. It stipulates that if someone, like Caldarelli, stays out of trouble for six months to a year, the violation goes away. 

Brean: "So if that's the practice, I'm wondering why we're even ticketing people now?"

Chief Jim Vanbrederode, Gates Police Department: "Well what happens in the Gates Court, if it's a simple marijuana pinch you go into court. If you agree to have a drug assessment done then you're given the ACD and everything goes away."

VanBrederode is the chief of police in Gates and the head the chief's association in Monroe County. He says that assessment can detect whether someone has an addiction. 

"So that whole part of getting the assessment could be a lifesaver for certain people," he said. 

Lewke: "A lot of people might say, 'if it's going to be legal in three months, why not just let it go now?'"

Doorley: "Right now, you know what, it is the law so I'll be following the law until the law is changed."

Caldarelli got the ACD and pled guilty.

But unlike people in Buffalo and Erie County where cases are getting tossed or people aren't getting arrested in the first place, Caldarelli got hit with a fine and mandatory surcharge. 

The total? $150. 

Brean: "Despite getting the offer that you got today, you still have to pay $150."

Caldarelli: "Yeah, that's, I mean, it is what it is. I wish I didn't have to do it but I'm going to have to because it isn't six months to a year from now."

Based on the number of tickets for unlawful marijuana possession issued by police in Monroe County last year, people paid approximately $50,000 in marijuana fines and surcharges.  

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. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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