January 20, 2022

Cortland plans 1 more hearing on bath salts law

The Cortland County Legislature will have another public hearing before reconsidering a local law prohibiting man-made drugs, following urging from county officials, law enforcement and members of the public.

While the topic was not on the agenda for the Legislature’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee meeting Thursday morning, nearly a dozen people used the privilege of the floor to share their support for the local law, which would prohibit the sale, possession or use of any synthetic intoxicant or dangerous substance that mimics the effects of controlled substances or marijuana.

“For over 12 years, we have watched our neighborhood deteriorate due to the drug use in this area,” Cortland resident Melanie Arnold said.

She and her husband Kevin are in the process of moving, stating that drug-related activities across the street have become the norm.

“We have watched people overdose in the front yard of this house, we have watched people on a daily basis coming in and out of that house and they are clearly under the influence,” Arnold said. “We no longer feel safe in our neighborhood.”

But because it is man-made drugs, law enforcement’s hands are tied, Arnold said.

For 50 years, drug enforcement has categorized drugs as either stimulants, narcotics or hallucinogens, and made them illegal, District Attorney Patrick Perfetti told legislators in September. However, those laws were based on specific chemical compounds, and drug makers could alter the formula just enough to achieve the same effect, but skirt around the legal ban.

Cortland Police Chief Paul Sandy said he fully endorses the local law and addressed residents’ concerns that the law would target people of color.

“There is no basis for that and it makes a broad assumption that people of color are the ones that are abusing this drug,” Sandy said. “Statistics that we have kept in 2021, we have had 81 overdoses — of those 81, two were minorities. We are not going to impact the minorities in our community by passing this law.”

Communities and neighborhoods across the county have been severely affected by substance abuse, Sandy said, and this law would help residents live without having their daily lives disrupted by crime.

“This law is not to penalize people,” he said. “This law is to allow us to help those with substance abuse addiction to get the treatment that they need to turn their life around.”

The crime, which would be only in Cortland County, would be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine and up to three months in jail.

“It’s important that you give law enforcement the tools necessary for us to do the job of enforcement,” Perfetti told legislators Thursday.

The committee voted, 6-1, to send the measure to the full Legislature for consideration on Dec. 16. A public hearing will be before the session. Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland) voted no, saying, among other things, she wanted to see the county attorney’s review of the proposed law.

“Please, when you vote on this, do it by a roll call vote, so that we know which legislators supported this and which ones were against it, because the next time a parent comes to my office to ask me why I can’t prosecute a drug dealer who provided drugs to their child who’s died because of an overdose,” Perfetti said, “I want to be able to give them your names so that you can explain to them why you won’t give me the tools that I need to do my job.”