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Douglas: No Politics In Pot Contradiction

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
MONTPELIER - Gov. James Douglas said Friday he does not see a contradiction in his handling of two major marijuana busts - one of which he criticized for alleged leniency and the other that he didn't.

This fall, when Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand, a Democrat, approved court diversion for a Windsor lawyer arrested with more than two pounds of pot and 32 growing plants, Douglas, a Republican, ordered state law enforcement to send all future marijuana cases from that county to state prosecutors.

But Douglas is poised to take no action after a Randolph man was given court diversion after police found him with 110 marijuana plants. That court decision was made by Orange County State's Attorney William Porter, a Republican.

Speaking on Vermont Public Radio Friday morning, Douglas said he directed marijuana cases in Windsor County to bypass Sand's office because of the prosecutor's alleged "blanket policy" to send first-time possession cases to diversion.

He added there are other differences between the two criminal cases, but when asked said he did not know the details of the Orange County case, in which three times as many marijuana plants were seized.

"We have a prosecutor who has had a blanket policy of deferring first-time marijuana offenses regardless of amount," Douglas said on the radio show.

In the Windsor County case, part-time family court judge Martha Davis, 61, was charged in early October after police found 2-1/2 pounds of marijuana and 32 pot plants at her home. The following month, Davis was allowed to enter the court diversion program to resolve that complaint.

Meanwhile, 45-year-old North Johnson of Randolph was arrested in late August after police found 110 plants and drug paraphernalia at his home. That case, which was prosecuted in Orange County, was also sent to court diversion.

Earlier this week, Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said comparing the two marijuana cases was like comparing "apples and oranges." But Gibbs did not return several calls for further comment Friday.

Sand, when reached at his office in White River Junction Friday morning, scoffed at the idea the two cases were so different.

"My wife's response to that was that this is not apples to oranges, this is marijuana to marijuana," he said.

Sand, who advocates the decriminalization of marijuana and a review of state drug laws, strongly denied Douglas' assertion that he has a "blanket policy" regarding marijuana cases.

But as a "practical matter, there is a trend in the state to use the diversion program - a confidential court process under which criminal charges are dropped and the defendant may be ordered to undergo treatment or community service - for some drug cases," Sand explained.

When asked if he thinks Douglas is being hypocritical in his attitudes with the two cases, Sand said the governor's actions add confusion to the drug debate.

"I think I share some of the confusion Vermonters are feeling right now about marijuana cases," he said, after a short pause. "It is confusing that in one case diversion is apparently unacceptable, but in another case - which features more marijuana - diversion is acceptable."

The controversy highlights an apparent contradiction in Douglas' stance, which is highlighted by his quotes to the Vermont media when news of Sand's sentence broke in early November.

He told the Rutland Herald then that Sand's decision is a "bad message to send to our kids." Vermont Public Radio at the time paraphrased him as saying that Sand abused his discretion because of the quantity of marijuana involved.

"We can't have a situation in Vermont where in 13 other of our counties, possession is treated as the felony it is, and possibly result in jail time, and in another county someone gets a 'get out of jail free' card," he told the Herald at the time.

Sen. John Campbell, a Democrat from Windsor County, where Sand works, said Douglas' different views on two similar marijuana cases "smells of politics."

"This is patently offensive in light of the facts of these two cases," said Campbell, who is a possible Democratic candidate for governor next year. "The governor is really insulting the intelligence of Vermonters with this."

On the radio program Friday, Douglas denied the political parties of the prosecutors played a part in his decision.

"There is no political motivation," he said. "My motivation is public safety."

On Friday, Sand again stated the need for a statewide discussion on drug policy. He said it could be modeled after Sen. Richard Sears' recent roundtable discussions on domestic abuse, which led to the consideration of new legislation.

"All the parties involved need to get together to have a serious drug policy discussion," Sand said.

A drug policy discussion will be on the agenda for the new legislation session, Campbell said.

"The legislature will be looking at the policies and penalties of drug possession next year," he said.

Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2007 Rutland Herald
Contact: letters@rutlandherald.com
Website: Rutland Herald: Rutland Vermont News & Information
 
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