Vermont’s decision earlier this month to legalize recreational marijuana may make more work for police on the New York side of the state line.
Local police believe they will see an impact from the Green Mountain state’s legalization of possession and growing of weed, which takes effect this summer.
With large numbers of Vermonters driving through Washington and Warren counties on their way to and from their home state, police expect to come across more people from Vermont in possession of a substance that will still be illegal in New York, and see more people driving under the influence of it.
Legalization will likely result in more people trying marijuana in Vermont, and some undoubtedly will forget to leave it home as they travel.
“I think it’s going to be a problem for us near the border,” said Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell. “It’s not going to stop at the border, it’s going to come across, and we’re going to have more people getting arrested.”
“More of a concern to me (than possession of marijuana) is that we may see more impaired driving because it will be more readily available,” said Ernie Bassett, chief of police in the villages of Granville and Whitehall. The village of Granville abuts the state line.
Vermont will make it legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four pot plants at a time, starting July 1.
In New York, possession of under 25 grams, or 0.88 ounces, can bring the noncriminal violation of unlawful possession of marijuana, equal to a traffic ticket.
With the law change, a person who is found to have the ounce of marijuana that is legal in Vermont could face a misdemeanor charge in New York, which could be a significant problem when applying for jobs or other situations where a criminal record must be disclosed.
While people have different feelings about marijuana and whether it is a “gateway” drug to more harmful substances, there is no sign of change in the law on the horizon in New York.
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said police routinely deal with legal issues regarding residents of one state found in New York with weapons or fireworks that are legal in neighboring states.
Vermont residents do not need a permit to have a handgun, but that law does not reciprocate in New York. People in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire can buy more powerful fireworks than we can in New York, but possessing them in New York is still illegal.
“Once you come to a state, you are subject to their laws,” Murphy said. “In some states, it is easier to do some things than others. Our (marijuana) law isn’t changing.”
Murphy said the change in Vermont law was discussed at this month’s New York State Sheriff’s Association conference, and the association was going to be providing some guidance to New York sheriffs about it.