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Thread: Heed Vote on Pot

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    420 Member PFlynn's Avatar
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    Heed Vote on Pot

    The vote this week by Denver's Marijuana Policy Review Panel urging the city to stop convicting adults for simple marijuana possession reinforces the message voters have twice sent to local officials. It's a message law enforcement should heed. The panel voted 5-4 to ask the City Council to recommend an end to prosecution of simple possession cases for adults "absent compelling reasons articulated . . . in open court." The resolution echoes ballot questions passed in 2005 and 2007 that first legalized - although only in city statute books - adult possession of less than 1 ounce of pot and then instructed the city to make prosecuting simple possession the "lowest priority" for law enforcement. Voters backed both measures - by 53 percent and 57 percent, respectively.

    We opposed both measures. After the first one passed we even said it would be wrong for police to stop enforcing the state law against marijuana possession. But given the unambiguous sentiment in Denver to end these prosecutions, we've since concluded that the city should back off on this matter. The problem is that no one outside law enforcement really knows how often people are punished for possession of a small amount of marijuana and nothing else. Three years ago, officials insisted that most pot charges were supplemental - add-ons to other charges and thus used as leverage to nail the offender. We have no objection to the use of the state pot law in this fashion. The panel seems to agree - its recommendation Wednesday acknowledged that pot prosecutions should be pursued "for compelling reasons."

    Panelist Mason Tvert, who led the campaign to pass both measures, has cited police statistics indicating that adult misdemeanor marijuana arrests have gone up since the first initiative passed. Police made 1,059 such arrests in 2005, then 1,347 in 2006 and 1,587 in 2007. What's not clear is how many of those arrests were accompanied by other charges. The panel should have that information early next year (along with more current arrest data) when it formally makes its recommendation to the City Council.

    Local law enforcement agencies continue to resist both measures. The four panelists voting no Tuesday include Denver police Lt. Ernie Martinez and Assistant City Attorney Vincent DiCroce. DiCroce restated prosecutors' objection to the notion that the council might try to dictate law enforcement priorities. But the council can (and does) pass laws that prosecutors enforce. Voters can also modify the City Charter and the Municipal Code with ballot measures like the ones adopted regarding marijuana possession.

    The 2007 ordinance defines "adult personal use" as "the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana by an adult at least 21 years of age, where the marijuana is not used or displayed in public. The sale of marijuana . . . is not included in the definition of personal use and is subject to prosecution under existing state laws." Put simply, most Denverites believe police and prosecutors have better things to do than hassle adults who have a small amount of pot but aren't displaying, selling or lighting it in public. They've said so twice; their opinion should be honored.

    Indeed, the city seems to be coming around to that view, too. DiCroce revealed Wednesday that his office has been discussing with the chief county judge ways to streamline prosecutions. Under one proposal, people cited for possession would not have to appear in court. They could simply pay the $100 fine by mail, as they would a traffic ticket. Such a move would signal progress; speeders don't have to appear in court, and people caught with small amounts of pot - an act most Denverites don't think should be treated as an offense at all - shouldn't have to either if they choose not to fight the charges.

    Source: Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)
    Copyright: 2008 Denver Publishing Co.
    Website: Heed voters on pot : Editorials : The Rocky Mountain News
    Last edited by Herb Fellow; 05-31-2008 at 04:56 AM.
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