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Police: Vermont marijuana legalization will have impact in NY

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.

Glens Falls Hospital: More flu this season

GLENS FALLS — This year’s influenza season is proving particularly difficult, in part because the predominant virus, H3N2, is constantly finding ways to outsmart the immune system, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, deputy director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week during public health grand rounds.

Like hospitals around the state, Glens Falls Hospital has seen a higher number of confirmed influenza cases this flu season than last season.

“Since the beginning of December 2017, over 200 influenza cases have tested positive at Glens Falls Hospital,” said Hillary Alycon, manager of infection prevention at Glens Falls Hospital. “According to our statistics, the majority of patients with influenza are ages 65 and over.”

Alycon said they are predominantly seeing Influenza A at the hospital.

The H3N2 virus, one of the Influenza A strains, is particularly nasty because it is constantly changing, making it difficult to target immunizations and to treat.

The way public health officials explain it, the flu virus enters the body as a swarm of viruses that alter their make-up to avoid detection.

“Every year it changes and has evolved to evade human immunity,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the CDCs influenza division during public health grand rounds this week. “That makes it harder to develop a universal vaccine.”

Not even half-way through the season, the flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii. It started early and the numbers spiked quickly with the flu symptoms accounting for 1 in 15 doctor visits last week. That’s the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009.

“Is this year an epidemic? Yes,” said Jernigan, explaining that every year flu season is an epidemic.

Schools closed in two states, California flu medicines are running short and 37 children have died from flu complications. In Syracuse, a 10-year-old child died from the flu.

“We monitor for pediatric deaths every year, and unfortunately we see them every year. So far we have 37 that have been reported and we expect that there will be more reported in the next few weeks,” said Jernigan. “In a year that was similar to this one, which was the 2014-15 season, there were 148 pediatric deaths reported for that total year.”

The New York State Department of Health collects, compiles and analyzes information on influenza activity and in a report ending last Friday, this is the seventh week of widespread activity with 7,779 laboratory-confirmed influenza reports; a 28 percent increase over the previous week.

Pat Auer, director of Warren County Health Services, said there are likely more cases than reported because often people who are sick with flu symptoms do not go to the doctor and because not all cases are reported.

According to Jernigan, most people do not need to see a doctors unless symptoms are severe.

Stemming its spread is critical and Auer said that hand washing and staying home if sick are key. “It’s not too late to get a flu shot,” she added. “It stacks the deck in your favor.”

Glens Falls Hospital has taken extra measures to protect patients, including instituting temporary visitation guidelines at the hospital and all regional locations during the declared flu season.

“We kindly ask that visitors are aware of these guidelines prior to arrival. Visitors with a fever, sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, rash or diarrhea will be prohibited from visiting patients,” said Alycon. “In addition, a maximum of two visitors will be permitted in a patient’s room at any one time. For children under 13 years of age to visit, arrangements must be made with the RN responsible for the patient’s care.”

Alycon continued.

“If a visitor is here for testing or treatment, and has any of those symptoms, we ask them to please use a mask that will be provided to them at various locations in the hospital and at all Glens Falls Hospital regional locations,” she said.

On Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared that pharmacists are now permitted to administer influenza vaccines to people between the ages of two and 18.

“Prior to this declaration, any person younger than 18 years old had to see their provider to receive the vaccine,” said Alycon. “The flu shot appears to be effective for the flu strains we are currently seeing in the United States.”

Post-Star file photo  

A sign posted outside a Rite Aid pharmacy in Glens Falls reminds people to get a flu shot. On Jan. 25, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared that pharmacists are now permitted to administer influenza vaccines to people between the ages of two and 18.

Police: No charges expected for basketball melee

GLENS FALLS — Glens Falls Police have determined no criminal charges are warranted for last week’s brawl that involved players and fans at a Glens Falls High basketball game.

A Glens Falls police officer was knocked unconscious and suffered a hand injury as he was felled while trying to stop a fight that broke out in front of the Hudson Falls High bench Jan. 19. No other injuries were reported, but videos posted online show numerous scuffles that spilled out of the gym into an adjacent hallway.

Police reviewed numerous videos of the melee and concluded there did not appear to be any intent on the part of those involved to injure or confront the officer, John Norton, and it was unclear how he was knocked down. No one filed a complaint seeking charges.

Norton missed work over the weekend and Monday, but returned to duty on Tuesday.

Glens Falls Police Detective Lt. Peter Casertino said it appeared the brawl started after a Glens Falls player knocked the ball away from a Hudson Falls player, leading to words being exchanged and a second Glens Falls player becoming involved and having physical contact with the Hudson Falls player. Spectators went onto the court as the pileup grew, but those who got involved appeared to be trying to play peacemaker, Casertino explained.

“There were definitely no punches thrown by bystanders,” Casertino said. “It looked like they were trying to pull people apart.”

The Post-Star is withholding the names of the players involved, but police said Glens Falls star guard Joseph Girard III was not part of the fight.

Norton was in uniform, but was working for the school district at the time. He went to Glens Falls Hospital after he was hurt, and off-duty officers from other police agencies who were in the stands watching the game and other Glens Falls Police officers who were called remained as the game resumed.

Officials from both schools said players involved in the fracas will be disciplined per Section II and school policies. Section II’s policy calls for a one-game suspension after an ejection.