On the cusp of New York State’s approving recreational marijuana use, this is a reminder of a time when ‘drug dealers’ could expect hard prison times if caught.
In the United States, many scare tactics were put forward - including charging many first-time marijuana-related offenders with a minimum sentence of 2-10 years and a fine of up to $20,000, as per the Boggs Act, 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act, 1956. These tactics did not really stop people from smoking. For many young adults, taking a “toke” seemed harmless, although it was even more fun because it was breaking the law.
Back in the 1960s and 70s, the social consumption patterns were a part of the culture in private homes and hang-outs, with groups of friends, and as part of larger gatherings.
The 1960s was the decade of the counterculture, which encouraged a revolution of social norms in clothing, music, drugs, dress, sexuality, formalities, and education. Some also describe the decade as one of irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and decay of social order, due to the abundance of drugs. Cannabis was among one of these drugs that became a symbol of the counterculture and “hippies”, who contributed to this widespread of socially accepted drug use.
So, how did Wayne County approach the marijuana and drug scene?
When Jim Hurley became Sheriff in 1969, he admitted, “Nobody around here was doing anything.” At that time, a young, skinny kid applied for a job with the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. Hurley took one look at him and thought no one would ever suspect him as a undercover drug officer and immediately hired him.
That young, straight-as-an-arrow man was told to go home, grow his hair, and start a life as a grungy outsider. “We gave him a false identification, driver’s license,” recalled then Sheriff Hurley. With a questionable car provided, Dave Dalton became Wayne County’s first undercover drug officer.
Dalton, who later became a drug investigator and Sheriff’s Sergeant, would eventually become Chief of Police in the Village of Palmyra for years.
As an undercover purchaser of marijuana, Dave had both scary and funny encounters. No one except Hurley and his Chief Deputy Ray Herold knew of Dave’s transformation. Fellow officers looked down on the then-fake-druggy and ostracized him.
Although Dalton was left to his own devices and situations, Chief Hurley often watched over his recruit from afar.
Hurley recalled a trooper stopping Dalton in his undercover role, spotting the fake license and Dave recalled trying to convince the trooper that he was actually a Sheriff’s Deputy. A 2:00 a.m. phone call to a sleeping Hurley confirmed Dave’s actual identity and purpose.
On another occasion, a local town police officer pulled Dave over with a quantity of marijuana in his vehicle and some quick talking slight of hand averted his true identity and purpose.
Hurley also recalled the time Dave was to make a buy at the front of a beer joint known as Jimmy’s Bar in Newark, on the north side of the canal. Jim Hurley wanted to ensure Dave’s safety and climbed a tree on the south side of the canal with binoculars to watch the ‘buy’ go down.
Unfortunately, scurrying below the tree Hurley had climbed, came another adventure. A family of raccoons decided to investigate. One large raccoon climbed the next tree and began hissing at the Sheriff. The animal then decided to climb the same tree Hurley was perched in to further investigate.
“I couldn’t shoot the stupid thing, so I reached in my pocket and began dropping coins on his head.” Luckily, the raccoon retreated and the ‘buy’ went on.
In yet another case, Dalton, a frequent visitor to what was known today Tom Jones Bar in Lyons, approached a man who hated him and would never sell product to him. Dave coaxed the man one more time and a short time later the man returned to the bar and handed Dave an
envelope. Inside the envelope was a questionable quantity of marijuana, but just enough to test positive. The man was indicted and eventually sent to prison.
Dave recalled scarier times when he had to call for help before being threatened to be beaten to a pulp.
A number of ‘beer joints’ and hotels, some left from ‘Prohibition days’, lined Willow Avenue and the no longer existent Spar Alley in Newark. The Willow Avenue Hotel and Sierra Hotel were reportedly frequented by early drug deals. It was a raid at the Sierra Hotel that swooped up a number of Dalton’s early drug deals in 1970. By the end of Wayne County’s excursion into undercover work, a total of eight people ended up behind bars.
Jim Hurley went on to run for the New York State Assembly and in the ‘74-’75 sessions, it was proposed to decriminalize possession of a 1/4 ounce of marijuana. When it came time for the hearing, Jim had a 1/4 ounce rolled into ‘joints’, held up the bag of 28 joints to the Assembly and the proposal was heartily defeated.
Dave stayed on with the Sheriff’s office for over a decade before becoming the Palmyra Village Police Chief in 1981.
Times have changed since the movie “Reefer Madness”. That 1936 American propaganda film attempted to tell the story of drugs revolving around the melodramatic events that ensue when high-school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana. Consequences such as a hit and run accident, manslaughter, suicide, conspiracy to murder, attempted rape, hallucinations, and descent into madness from marijuana addiction.
Disputes on the effect of marijuana and its use for some medical treatments began to diffuse the use of the drug.
Laws began to ease, but prisons filled up with marijuana and other drug sales and possession.
According to an end of the year CBS News Poll, support for legal pot hit a new high in 2019, with 65% of U.S. adults saying marijuana should be legal. And, for the first time in CBS News polling, a majority of Republicans (56%) favored legal marijuana. While people ages 65 and over continued to be the least likely age group to support marijuana legalization, slightly more of them favored it (49%) than opposed it (45%) in the 2019 poll.
In response, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, which repealed the Marijuana Tax Act. Although the new law did officially prohibit the use of cannabis for any purpose, it also eliminated mandatory minimum sentences and reduced simple possession of all drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Under the CSA, cannabis was assigned a Schedule I classification, deemed to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use – thereby prohibiting even medical use of the drug. Efforts to reduce further marijuana use, once aligned with heroin, LSD and other harder drugs, started to take form.
But society was in a tiff. During the Reagan administration, the Sentencing Reform Act provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 created the Sentencing Commission, which established mandatory sentencing guidelines. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 reinstated mandatory prison sentences, including large scale cannabis distribution. Later, an amendment created a three-strikes law, which created mandatory 25-years imprisonment for repeated serious crimes – including certain drug offenses – and allowed the death penalty to be used against “drug kingpins”.
The Solomon–Lautenberg amendment, a federal law enacted in 1990 urged states to suspend the driver’s license of anyone who commits a drug offense.
A number of states passed laws in the early 1990s seeking to comply with the amendment, in order to avoid a penalty of reduced federal highway funds. These laws imposed mandatory driver’s license suspensions of at least six months for committing any type of drug offense (regardless of whether any motor vehicle was involved) including the simple possession of cannabis. Four states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Texas) still have so-called “Smoke a joint, lose your license” laws in effect as of 2020.
But times have changed. Some in the medical profession profess marijuana has a calming/positive effect on some cancer patients, and medical treatments that followed. More research unveiled the temporary use of either smoked or consumed forms of marijuana relieved pain in myriad ailments.
To combat state-approved medical cannabis legislation, the Drug Enforcement Administration continued the routine targeting and arrests of medical cannabis patients and the seizure of medical cannabis and the business assets of growers and medical dispensaries.
This was finally curtailed with the passage of the Rohrabacher–Farr amendment in 2014, although prosecutions initially continued until a pair of court rulings determined the DOJ was interpreting the amendment incorrectly.
In January 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum, an Obama-era policy that generally discouraged U.S. Attorneys from enforcing federal law against state-legal cannabis enterprises. The impact that rescinding the memo would have on enforcement activities was not immediately made clear by Justice Department officials.
The ‘cat’ was already out of the bag - as one state after another began either decriminalizing marijuana possession, or allowing the wide use of medical marijuana.
In 2019 New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on signed a bill into law further decriminalizing marijuana. What was once a felony with potential prison time decades ago, remained a violation rather than a misdemeanor, lowering the fines for possessing less than 2 ounces.
Possession of less than 1 ounce would carry a top fine of $50, down from $150 for a first-time offender and $250 and a 15-day jail term for repeat offenders.
Possession of more than 1 ounce but less than 2 ounces will have a top fine of $200, down from the prior max of $500 and up to three months in jail.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) last Monday signed legislation legalizing the adult use of recreational marijuana in the state, making good on a ballot measure New Jersey voters passed by a wide margin in November.
In addition to legalizing adult-use and possession of up to 6 ounces of cannabis, the legislation also creates a regulated marketplace for its sale and restructures the penalties for underage marijuana use.
Under the new rules, underage marijuana and alcohol use will be treated similarly, and will be subject to an escalating set of sanctions, starting with a written warning and ending with a referral to substance abuse counseling.
The law also bans police from searching underage individuals solely because they detect an odor of marijuana.
Part of the reasoning to marijuana legalization is the tax monies generated. “Regulated” cannabis is legal, meaning it must be obtained either from a state-licensed dispensary or grown in accordance with state regulations. New Jersey has not yet established regulations for retail sales or home cultivation, but that will eventually be addressed.
Regardless of possible drawbacks, in doing so New Jersey becomes 13th state to legalize recreational marijuana and 35 states have implemented medical marijuana programs for patients.
More states are expected to decriminalize recreational marijuana in the near future and there is a move on the federal level to follow suite.
An opinion piece in the New York Daily News, stated: “After a few false starts, 2021 must be the year New York legalizes marijuana for adult use. Currently, the drug — no more harmful than alcohol, and used by millions responsibly — is legal in 15 other states and Washington D.C., which together add up to more than a third of America’s population. Legislation in the governor’s budget, amended last week, looks more promising than prior years’ efforts. The bill sets up an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee decisions about the state’s licensing, growing and dispensing regulatory scheme, with all the office’s members appointed by the governor. Lawmakers will likely seek the power to appoint at least some of those members, which would be fine...
Another welcome feature in the amended bill is a $100 million social equity fund paid for by the estimated $350 million in annual revenue legalization is expected to provide. Local governments and non-profits would apply for those funds to support programs, like job placement and mental health and substance abuse treatment, to help communities hardest hit by the war on drugs rebuild themselves.
The new legislation allows delivery of the drug — why not? — and prohibits the state from denying employment to people seeking jobs in the new marijuana industry solely because of prior convictions for offenses related to illicit substances. It also wisely allows the new cannabis office to reduce or waive fees to ensure minority- and women-owned businesses and disadvantaged farmers have a better shot at getting the licenses they’ll need to grow and sell the drug.
Last, there are strict measures in place to prevent the drug’s sale to people under 21, as there must be: Legalizing weed, which can be extremely potent, doesn’t mean encouraging its use, particularly among young people.”
Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts is opposed to the decriminalization of marijuana. He believes that, in the decades to follow, the overuse and damage to today’s youth will become evident. He also questions the tax incentive to passing decriminalization, stating that, in the long run, treatments and addiction rates will far wipe out any tax profits.
Police agencies are also questioning the legalization since many drivers are caught with the smell of marijuana emanating after traffic stops, but police lack good tests to determining the level of marijuana intoxication while driving.
Regardless of potential pitfalls, New York’s proposed law has undergone changes and scrutiny and is expected to be passed later this year.
PORT GIBSON: George Schwartz, 77, passed away on Friday, April 16, 2021 at his home in Newark surrounded by family. Friends may call on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 from 6-7 PM at the Paul L. Murphy and Sons Funeral Home, 127 E. Miller St., Newark, NY. A funeral service will follow at the funeral home. […]
MARION: Entered into rest on April 17, 2021 at the age of 73. Predeceased by his parents, Jack and Veronica Schifano; survived by his loving wife of 44 years, Ilse; children, Jennifer (CJ) Cogliadro, Jonathan (Sherry Wickum) Schifano, Christopher (Jocelyn) Schifano and Jeremy (Olivia) Schifano; 9 grandchildren, brother, William (Terry) Schifano; several nieces, nephews, cousins […]