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City Council To Discuss Decriminalization Of Pot

Herb Fellow

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The Burlington City Council will debate Monday whether to put the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana to a citywide vote. Councilors Ed Adrian, D-Ward 1, and Tim Ashe, P-Ward 3, are co-sponsoring a resolution that would put the question directly to city voters March 4.

Adrian said Monday he has been working on the issue for some time, "getting support on the council." He said Gov. Jim Douglas's comment last week that he is willing to have a "conversation" about decriminalizing marijuana persuaded additional councilors to support the Burlington initiative.

Adrian also credited Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand for raising the issue.

In November, Douglas and Sand sparred over the issue. After Sand allowed a Windsor County woman found with 2 1/2 pounds of marijuana to enter a court diversion program rather than face criminal prosecution, Douglas ordered state law enforcement agencies to bypass Sand and refer large drug cases to top Vermont or federal prosecutors. In December, Douglas lifted that order.

Early this month, Douglas said he is willing to talk about decriminalization, but added that the debate continues on whether marijuana is a gateway drug and said its use should be discouraged, particularly for young people. "We want to send the right message to young people," he said.

The Adrian-Ashe ballot item would also ask the governor and the Legislature to consider statewide decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.

"We're actually going for the broadest-based support," Adrian said. "We're going straight to the residents of Burlington to see if it's worth (the council's) time to take up this issue."

"We're not talking about making marijuana legal," Ashe said. "We're talking about a more sane way of treating people who violate this particular law."

Deputy Police Chief Walt Decker said the police department is "cautious" about decriminalizing marijuana. "We think it needs a lot more study," he said.

Decker said Burlington police officers already use "discretion" on the street in deciding whether to make a drug arrest.

"In the larger perspective of things going on in our city on a Friday or Saturday night," Decker said, "we realize small amounts of marijuana may be low on the list of things we need to deal with."

Decker said the police do not want to eliminate the possibility of a criminal charge for possession of marijuana. He said police might want that option when dealing with a person with a criminal record and on conditional release with a prohibition on drug use. Possession by that person, he said, could be significant in terms of a future investigation.

Decker said the department has been studying whether to add to the issues that could be dealt with through a ticket. "There are low-level offenses -- disorderly conduct, retail theft, along, with, for instance, small amounts of drug paraphernalia -- that could be addressed with a civil ticket and be just as expediently resolved as with the criminal process."

Joe Reinert, the assistant to Mayor Bob Kiss, said the mayor hasn't had a chance yet to study the proposed ballot question.

Source: BurlingtonFreePress.com
Copyright: 2008 The Burlington Free Press
Contact: John Briggs at 660-1863 or jbriggs@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com.
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