County Legislature reconvene on proposed anti-drug policy

The Cortland County Office Building at 60 Central Ave, Cortland, N.Y. (Photo Source: Cortland County).

A law to prohibit the sale and possession of intoxicating chemical compounds meant to mimic the effects of controlled substances is back on the table for the Cortland County Legislature, after being absent from legislature votes for about a year.

The local law, colloquially dubbed the “bath salts” law, resurfaced at Tuesday’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting. It would prohibit the sale of a variety of substances and chemicals. According to a draft of the law, violators would be charged with a Class “B” misdemeanor and subject to a definite term of imprisonment not to exceed three months and/or a fine not to exceed $500.

A recent draft of the local law may be found here, starting on page 32.

Although the piece of legislation came to a vote a couple times in 2021, legislators felt at the time the law needed some retooling.

County Legislature Chair Kevin Fitch (R-LD-8) said he would like to see the legislature vote on it in October.

County attorney Victoria Monty said some new additions to the most recent draft include definitions that mirror the state’s penal law. Additionally, Monty noted the draft is similar to that seen in other counties.

“This is modeled very closely by Onondaga County’s law, which as I understand they don’t enforce that local law,” Monty said. “Their DA’s office does not do anything with it.”

Monty noted terms in the law have been broadened to encompass more substances, as chemical formulas and compounds change.

“We do not want to not be able to prosecute something because it is too specific,” she said.

Some language, legislators said, needs to be tightened up. Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-LD-3) said there is overlap between what is covered in this local law and legal phrasing found in other local bills.

“We need to talk about and figure out how we want to proceed,” she said. “We already have a synthetic marijuana local law in the books from 2012.”

Bischoff added the 2012 synthetic marijuana law prescribes more severe punishments. Violators of that local law are fined $1,000 and are charged with a Class “A’ misdemeanor. 

“There is a difference in applying whatever penalties under one law as opposed to the other, even though both laws could potentially address the same substance,” she said. “We need to be clear and consistent and not in conflict between both laws.”

Cortland County Sheriff Mark Helms said he does not believe the county will have many offenders of the proposed local law. 

“There are some places, especially in the city, that have been a problem house or area that we keep getting called back to,” Helms said. “There is nothing we can do and we have to listen to residents tell us that we are not doing anything.”

Helms said one of the main drugs found in the county is Methyl​enedioxy​methamphetamine (MDMA), commonly known as Molly. Helms noted there are plenty of variations and similar substances that fall into the “Molly” category.

“We are fortunate enough that we can test this,” he said. “It’s just a bad situation.”

Legislator Eugene Waldbauer (R-LD-13) advocated for harsher penalties.

“Class ‘B’ misdemeanor is also subject to a year of probation,” he said. “I would ask us to be careful, because if someone is reading that, I would probably argue in front of the judge and ask for probation. It could cause some confusion. If this is about substance abuse, you are probably going to have judges wanting to do probation.”