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Denver Voters Set 'Lowest Priority' for Cops: Pot

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Voters were in a cost-conscious mood this Election Day, rejecting several ballot measures to spend more taxpayer money in new areas, like stem-cell research in New Jersey. In Denver, though, voters weren't being asked to approve more spending. Instead, a controversial ballot measure simply called on the government to readjust its priorities. Here's the key section:

The Denver Police Department and the City Attorney's Office shall make the investigation, arrest and prosecution of marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the City's lowest law enforcement priority.

The measure passed with 55 percent of the vote last night, according to The Denver Post. A similar one was approved in Hailey, Idaho, as well. Together, they join Seattle and Missoula County, Mont., in ordering the police to find something better to do than bust your friendly neighborhood pot smoker. Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project was exuding confidence last night in comments to The Post, hailing "an unbroken winning streak" and concluding that "voters around the country don't want police time and effort wasted on small-time marijuana enforcement." But the bad news for marijuana advocates begins now that the people have spoken, courtesy of the main backer of the intiative, Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation:

WARNING: Do not be fooled by opponents' claims that this measure cannot be implemented.

That appeared at least partly aimed at Sgt. Ernie Martinez of the Denver Police Department, who told The New York Times recently that he "cannot envision ordering his officers to stop arresting people for marijuana." Unsurprisingly, he doesn't think much of the Safer group, saying its members "essentially want to promote self-indulgence of marijuana use at the risk of the public." His department's reaction to a 2005 vote that legalized marijuana possession of an ounce or less for adults may be a guide. From The Times:

The 2005 measure garnered 54 percent approval. But city officials have ignored it, choosing instead to keep enforcing superseding state laws, which stipulate that a marijuana offense of an ounce or less, considered a Class 2 petty offense in Colorado, is punishable by a $100 fine. Misdemeanor marijuana arrests for people over 21 have risen to 1,347 last year, from 1,168 in 2005.

During its coverage before the vote, The Post published a searching article concluding that Americans were finding ways to compromise on pot. "People have learned to live with pot, up to a fine point," the article said. Here are the boundaries they saw:

In a growing number of states and large cities, possessing and smoking a little pot is either a minor offense or no crime at all, while growing or distributing the drug still gets you in big trouble. Growing or using pot for medicinal purposes is widely accepted, while police and defense attorneys argue the details of what constitutes therapeutic amounts. Almost no one wants kids to have free access to marijuana, while the stigma of adult use drops to the level of a speeding ticket. Most voters want police to stop arresting the casual pot smoker, but they also don't yet want the state to sanction a legalized marijuana industry, in the manner of alcohol or tobacco.

Over at Freakonomics, several experts have weighed in on the subject. So should you: Do Denver voters have the right idea? Or is the city just one step closer to a United States of Amsterdam?

Source: The New York Times
Copyright: The New York Times 2007
Contact: letters@nytimes.com
Website: Denver Voters Set Lowest Priority for Cops: Pot - The Lede - Breaking News - New York Times Blog
 
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