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Pros, Cons of Pot Bill Debated


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The state's attorney, Robert Sand, also presented his own revisions to the bill, including a suggestion to simply confiscate and destroy marijuana found in some cases without further repercussion.

"Make no mistake about it, regardless of the actual consequences, current law says that an adult who uses marijuana is a criminal and a young person who uses is a delinquent," he said. "I am absolutely sure that a majority of Vermonters are not comfortable with that designation."

The decriminalization bill, which was introduced by Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, would not legalize marijuana but would make the possession of certain quantities a misdemeanor offense punishable with a ticket and a fine. Many of the specifics of the bill, including where to draw the line between felony and misdemeanor are subject to debate by the Judiciary Committee.

Sand argued that criminal justice resources are being squandered because of the time it takes for police officers to process marijuana cases -- two hours on average, he said -- which has the effect of reducing the amount of time they can spend patrolling communities and focusing on other issues.

"I'm not sure it's the most intelligent use of our resources," he said.

Addressing an argument raised by the bill's opponents that it would be difficult for officers to measure quantities of marijuana in the field, Sand said that 12 other states have already decriminalized possession and have overcome such hurdles.

"Are there logistical issues? Absolutely. But 12 other states have figured it out. I think Vermont can figure it out," he said.

Of those 12 states, he argued, seven of them were "red states," or those which tend to vote Republican.

"This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. This is not a libertarian issue. This is not a Progressive issue," he said. "(It's) how do we want to allocate our criminal justice resources."

Sand drew attention late last year after referring a lawyer and part-time judge to court diversion after authorities found marijuana plants growing on her property. Gov. Jim Douglas subsequently ordered state law enforcement agencies to redirect cases involving marijuana in Windsor County to state or federal officials because he believed Sand was not enforcing the law. Douglas later withdrew the order and dropped the issue.

Sand told the committee he personally favors removing marijuana from the criminal justice system entirely, but in the interest of compromise, he recommended a four-tier system.

The first tier would involve confiscating and destroying the smallest quantities found on a person with no further punishment. The second tier would lead to a ticket that could be paid or waived depending on whether the possessor submitted to a court-adminstered diversion program.

The third tier would result in a misdemeanor and the fourth a felony. Sand said the was flexible about what quantities to tie to each tier.

Following Sand's testimony, the committee heard the opposite point of view, as expressed by Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen, who was speaking on behalf of the Vermont Police Association.

"Our position is to leave the law the way it is," he said.

McQueen said that decriminalization would have a dramatic effect on the drug trade and would encourage violent criminal enterprises to expand their reach.

"It's not as benign as you might think," he said. "The money is in marijuana. That's where the money is."

McQueen took issue with the idea of potentially decriminalizing up to four ounces of marijuana -- an amount at which he scoffed.

"Four ounces? Don't even go there. That's a thousand dollars," he said, joking that he would likely go into a different business if the committee took that approach.

"What is the goal of making the change in the first place?" he asked.

Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Brattleboro Publishing Co
Contact: news@reformer.com
Website: Brattleboro Reformer - Home
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