Zero tolerance – we hear the phrase all the time. For example, New York has a zero tolerance DWI law making it illegal for anyone under 21 to drive a motor vehicle after having consumed any alcohol at all. Zero tolerance has also been applied…
A conservative state assemblyman has been busted for possession of pot. Reports say that Steve Katz, a Republican member of the Assembly from Hudson Valley, was stopped last week on the Thruway for speeding – allegedly traveling 80 miles an hour in a 65 mph zone. The trooper says that after he pulled Katz over, he noticed a “slight” odor of marijuana coming from the car. Police add that when he was asked if there was any pot in his vehicle, Katz responded in the affirmative and handed over a bag of marijuana, which the officer described as being under an ounce.
Absent additional factors, first time possession of a small amount of pot is punishable by a fine of $100. The trooper says that he did not notice any evidence of intoxication; if he had seen an indication that Katz was “smoking while driving,” the story goes on, he would have brought in a drug recognition expert to determine whether Katz was under the influence.
There are a couple of aspects of the story that appear to us to be a bit strange. And it’s not the fact that someone, even a state legislator, was busted for possession of pot. The first relates to Katz’ position in the Assembly. He serves on the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee and the Committee on Higher Education, and voted against legalization of medical marijuana in New York. Some will say that using pot, if the charge is true, makes Katz a hypocrite. We’re not sure that’s the case, but we can say that the entire episode brings up the issue of whether certain people think they are above the law because of the position they occupy in Albany.
That brings us to the second issue, which is whether Katz received the same treatment that would have been accorded to a private citizen in the same circumstances. Our focus is on the statement of the Trooper to the effect that he did not see any evidence that Katz was smoking while driving. But what about the odor of marijuana? Seems to us that the odor of marijuana, like the odor of alcohol, is potential evidence that might lead one to suspect that the driver had alcohol or drugs in one’s system, or at least prompt further investigation by, say, a drug recognition expert.
In any event, this case will run its course, and we’ll see if Katz has anything to say about it. Thus far, it’s been “no comment” all the way.
George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016