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Long Story Short: Street legal


Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights

Photo by Bruce Adams


Dopey debate

The debate over cannabis legalization in New York State came to Buffalo last week, at a State Assembly public hearing held in the City Hall’s Common Council chambers. "This leafy substance, my friends, is not broccoli, OK?” argued Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. Well actually, that is a street name for cannabis, but Flynn was trying to emphasize that the psychotropic plant is not a health food (which no one was really claiming). Later, Flynn did acknowledge its medicinal properties.


Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes responded that she does not advocate recreational use of cannabis, but emphasized the “good ways that it can be used,” which is also beside the point. Flynn maintained that legalization would "make our community unsafe," because police might lose the right to search cars by detecting the scent of cannabis, but really suspecting evidence of more heinous illegalities.


Finally, Peoples-Stokes hit the mark by pointing out that the multi-billion-dollar black market cannabis industry is one of the things that puts so many guns on the street. And, while white folks use it in greater numbers, black and brown people are disproportionately prosecuted and sent to jail, destroying lives over a drug with fewer health risks than booze. Even Flynn acknowledged one advantage of buds over Bud: “You’re not going to see many bar fights with guys smoking marijuana, I don’t think," he said with a chuckle. Masten Councilman Ulysees Wingo suggested that legalizing cannabis will “significantly positively impact” his East Side community. 


Our take:

Can we just get this dog-and-pony show over, and move on to what everyone knows is going to happen sooner or later?


Meanwhile, the local branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORMAL) introduced a draft resolution to Buffalo’s Common Council legislation committee, calling for the Council to urge Mayor Byron Brown and the Buffalo Police Department to stop arresting people who possess small amounts of marijuana. They want police to issue a ticket instead. We say, that’s a good temporary solution.



Crime Stories

How bicycling led to solitary confinement

In August 2013, Felix Wilson was riding his bike the wrong way on East Ferry Street. Big mistake. It triggered a bizarre series of events which led to the bicyclist being placed in solitary confinement in Hazelton penitentiary in West Virginia.


The details:

How often do the police pull over bicycles for going the wrong way on a street? Never? Well maybe they had other reasons this time, because Wilson is a convicted felon who had an illegal 22-caliber gun with him. After a lengthy journey through the courts, Wilson ended up with a thirty-month sentence, to be served at Hazelton. Last month, Wilson got a new bunkmate, former “most wanted” New England crime boss and government informant, James "Whitey" Bulger. Within hours of transfer to Hazelton, Bulger was beaten to death. Wilson is scheduled to be released in April, and his lawyer doesn’t think he’s the murdering type, but when your roommate turns up dead, you’re pretty much automatically a suspect. Wilson and three other prisoners of interest were isolated from the general population. Initially, Wilson was identified as a native of New Hampshire, but nope, he’s a Buffalonian. 


The takeaway:

Ride responsibly.


Another way to break the law

It’s a trend: some drivers like to leave their cars running as they dash into stores, banks, and other places of business. You can’t miss them, because they’re often the ones with extremely loud music rattling through the side panels. Well, it’s against the law to leave a car running while unattended in New York State. It’s also dumb (and the music part is obnoxious), so—according to WKBW News—police are now actively looking for unattended running vehicles, so they can ticket them. The main reason for this new enforcement? Thieves like to take cars that are left running. Duh.


How not to get a ticket

Short answer: be rich.


Leaf-raking season has peaked. There will be another opportunity to collect late-fallen leaves now that the recent deep-freeze has ended. Residents are asked to put leaves into transparent garbage bags, or paper recycling bags, and leave them by the curb. The city website also states the following: “residents should be advised that raking leaves into city streets is illegal and punishable by a fine.”


Yet, this is exactly what residents living on some of the most affluent streets in the city are doing, so that city trucks can come by and dutifully pick up illegal piles of leaves. A recent drive down Lincoln Parkway heading north found several big leaf heaps in the right street lane. These piles clog up storm drains and can become a hazard when it snows. Try it in a middle-class neighborhood (to say nothing of impoverished areas) and the leaves sit there until they are ground into the street pavement.  


Why do people in wealthier districts get to throw their leaves into the street, while we regular folk are fined for the same thing?


While we’re on it:

Not raking leaves has become trendy among amateur ecologists, who think it’s good for lawns and gardens. If properly mulched (i.e., shredded),  this is true, but just leaving leaves, especially in piles, is a hazard. They plug storm drains and kill—rather than nourish—lawns. “Top-rated lawn pros tell our researchers that leaves left to pile up can form a heavy mass that can kill or damage grass and ornamental plants,” says timesunion, “Matted leaves block sunlight and reduce water evaporation, which can cause fungus, mold, and disease.” Mulch leaves and spread them evenly (heavier on plants you want to protect from freezing temperatures), or rake them, but don’t just leave them. Especially not in the street!



Wegmans fined $1.1 million dollars

Was anyone fooled into thinking that Amherst Street Wines & Liquors in Buffalo was not run by Wegmans? You know, the one that’s built in the Wegmans parking lot, accepts the Wegmans loyalty card for discounts, and shares employees with the adjacent grocery store? No? Well neither was the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA).


The details:

The SLA received a complaint that Amherst Street Wines & Liquors is effectively controlled by Wegmans. The SLA agreed. Wegmans pleaded no contest and accepted a $750,000 fine, plus another $75,000 for each of its five “Not-Wegmans” liquor stores.


Wegmans maintains its innocence. "What these stores have in common is that each is individually owned by a Wegman family member, and each owner is trying to run their store like we run Wegmans, with low prices, great selection, and great service," according to a statement from the company. Nicole Wegman, a daughter of Danny Wegman, operates the Amherst Street liquor store.


Milton's Distributing Company also paid a $225,000 fine for "illegally allowing Wegman's Food Corporation to use the privilege of Milton's wholesale license to traffic in wine and spirits."


Here’s what we think:

If you believe Donald Trump’s sons are running the Donald’s businesses without presidential assistance, perhaps you’ll accept Wegmans story too.


Wegmans lobbied for years to repeal the law that prohibits grocery stores from selling alcoholic beverages other than beer, wine coolers, and similar products. It quit lobbying when Nicole Wegman bought the first liquor store and located it near a Wegmans. The company thought it had a workaround to the state’s elaborate liquor laws. But it screwed up, and admitted as much when—as part of the plea agreement—Wegmans appointed a new "corporate compliance officer" and "instituted a new corporate compliance program to prevent additional legal complications going forward."


For those who enjoy the convenience of grabbing a loaf of bread and some milk while picking up a nice cabernet, the Amherst Street liquor store isn’t going anywhere. 



Doing the Pelosi flip

Congressman Brian Higgins said for months that he would not back Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker in the new Democratic-led Congress. In fact, he called her "aloof, frenetic, and misguided," which are tough words for the normally soft-spoken Higgins. Then he put his name on a letter with fifteen other Democrats calling for new leadership.


Two days later, he changed his mind.



Because Pelosi did what she’s good at; she made a deal. She agreed to back Higgins’ two biggest pet issues: a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan and Medicare for people over age fifty.


Also, Pelosi-haters didn’t have a viable alternative, since Congress members Karen Bass and Marcia Fudge both dropped out of consideration for the job—and backed Pelosi. President Trump also backed Pelosi, praising her as tough and smart. One reason may be that Pelosi is the Democrat Republicans love to hate, but she has also urged her colleagues to use restraint regarding impeachment against the President.



Blinded by the lights

There are twenty-eight days until Christmas.


Are you ready? If you aren’t in the holiday mood just yet, maybe this will help: the Hamburg Fairgrounds Festival of Lights runs every weekend through December 23. And who isn’t cheered by the sight of thousands of lights in the form of such things as elves, Santa, gingerbread houses, and Buffalo Bills helmets? Bonus: you don’t have to get out of your car to enjoy the display. (Admission is $25 a carload.)


But that’s not all. There’s a holiday magic show; a Winterland Workshop, where kids make their own tree ornaments; indoor kiddie rides at two-bucks a pop; cookie decorating at a dollar per cookie; Frosty’s 3D adventure (a maze with 3D glasses); train rides; and the North Pole experience. In the event that you still have any money left after that, there’s a holiday marketplace. Crass commercialism? Sure, but it’s fun. 


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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