Drug War Democracy

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

In 2005, the city of Denver passed a ballot measure removing the criminal penalties for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. But because possessing the drug is still illegal under Colorado state law, actual arrests for possession actually went up the next year.

Last year, the city of Denver passed another initiative calling on Denver police to make marijuana enforcement their "lowest priority."

Possession arrests went up again. In fact, they’ve jumped about 50 percent since 2004, the year before the first initiative passed.

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11 Responses to “Drug War Democracy”

  1. #1 |  Scooby | 

    Maybe the next initiative should reduce funding for police by the amount spent on MJ arrests. Will a cop be as anxious to make a MJ arrest if he doesn’t get paid for the hours involved with hauling the perp down to jail, filling out paperwork, and making court appearances?

    Since the cops have been told over and over that there are more productive uses of their time, maybe the power of the purse should be used to make them see the light.

  2. #2 |  Mason Tvert | 

    I ran the initiatives in Denver so I an answer that…

    The problem is not so much the police as it is the city attorney’s office. The police are able to enforce state laws — don’t get me wrong, they don’t HAVE to enforce state laws, but they are able to.

    The city attorney’s office also does not HAVE to prosecute these cases. In fact, they really aren’t supposed to be doing so. They are handling them under an agreement with the district attorney’s office, by which they are acting as deputized DAs.

    After all, this is a city office prosecuting state charges (remember, it’s no longer a crime under Denver ordinances).

    So the key is to get the city attorney’s office to stop doing the DA’s dirty work. This is exactly what we’re trying to do via the Marijuana Policy Review Panel established under the latest initiative. At the last meeting there was a recommendation proposed that directs the city attorney’s office to stop handling these cases for the DA. The panel will vote on it at its next meeting.

    If the city attorneys stop prosecuting these cases, it will be up to the DAs to do it themselves. They clearly don’t have the time or interest in doing so, and if the cases are not being prosecuted, it would only make sense for police to stop wasting their time writing the tickets.

    Then again, that would require the common sense of a 2nd-grader, so we’ll have to wait and see whether they put 2+2 together.

  3. #3 |  Alex | 

    That’s just dirty.

  4. #4 |  Leshrac | 

    Why are they still arresting people? Because the PO’s are gifted with infinite wisdom whenever they put on that badge. They know that Democracy is only as strong as the people that enforce it, and they are there to enforce their beliefs, not the laws. Please clarify whether those arrests are being made by State Troopers and not local PD’s. If it is the local PD’s, recoomendations should be made to discipline those officers that seems incapable of enforcing the laws set up by their local gvmts.
    Ala Spitzer, they don’t get to pick and choose what laws to enforce either…or make them up.

  5. #5 |  Matt Moore | 

    Did the arrests go up because it lulled users into a false sense of security?

    As far as I know, the penalties for small amounts of marijuana are pretty lax, something like a 100 dollar fine and no jail or criminal record. Also, there was a case last year where someone wanted to actually go to trial and test a jury’s will to send a pot smoker to jail… the city attorney dropped the charges on a “technicality” surrounding the legality of the search.

  6. #6 |  Waste | 

    I’m also wondering if the arrests went up because people thought it was legal. Also how many of those arrests were only for possession? Officers frequently stack charges. They could also have been used as a reason to search a vehicle or person. Arrest them for possession and you can now search the person or vehicle.

  7. #7 |  Dave Hummels | 

    To expand on what Waste was saying, I would say that it is important to support efforts to decriminalize/legalize, but it is just as important to restore the meaning of the fourth amendment. In order to make it easier for the government to prosecute its drug war, courts since the eighties have made search and seizure much easier than it should be in a truly free society. If the 4th Amendment is bolstered, small amounts of illicit drugs just won’t be found. That’s not legalization, but it would be a welcome change to me–and to a growing movement of law enforcers who know damn well this “war” is not working.

  8. #8 |  Mike Schneider | 

    The police will continue to arrest because it is the pretext via which they’ll then scan databases for other offenses (and probably find some given that merely breathing breaks a half a dozen laws these days), and then seize cash and other “evidence”, impound vehicles, etc.

  9. #9 |  OGRE | 

    Its been my experience as a criminal defense attorney that “pot prosecutions” typically arise from prosecutions from other crimes. In this area, the feds don’t even bother investigating pot–even distribution–unless there are other drugs involved so as to make it worth their while in getting a decent sentence under the sentencing guidelines. (For sentencing purposes, as of November, 1 to 2 grams of crack is equivalent to to 10 to 20 thousand grams of marijuana. For reference, 10KG is over 350 pounds.)

    At the state level here, I can’t recall the last time I saw a prosecution ‘solely’ for pot possession. Actually I don’t believe I ever saw one. At the least, they are tied in with either public intox or disorderly charges, or with minor MV offenses.

    Distribution will be investigated and charges (its a felony here) but typically will be plead down to misdemeanor possession with probation.

    My point is that probably most of the pot prosecutions there in Denver are tied in with other charges. (I have no evidence for this, by the way.) Thus, from an officers standpoint, might as well charge it, as its added leverage that can be used in the plea bargaining process. (i.e. plead to the DUI and no insurance, drop the speeding, expired reg, no seat belt, and possession charges.)

    I would think it unlikely that a possession charge would be used as a basis for a further search, as in most cases a search of some sort would have already have been performed to locate the pot. And most charges that would likely arise in the same situation would be sufficient to conduct a search incident to arrest or an impound search of a vehicle. I’m doubtful many judges would grant a home search warrant for pot based solely on pot possession outside of the home, although it wouldn’t surprise me to see that at some point.

    I think the problem for Denver is as Mason pointed out, that the city attorneys are ‘deputized’ by the county DA, which can make sense on some levels and can make a mess on others. What solutions are possible?

    – lobby the state legislature decriminalize marijuna possession and distrubution
    – directly order the city police and attorneys to not prosecute any marijuana possession, with the potential penalty of termination of employment (i would love to see the lawsuit resulting from a city attorney terminated for prosecuting pot possession in this instance!)

    And for the record, I am absolutely against any criminalization of marijuana possession, growth or distribution. To the point that it makes me very angry just thinking about it. And I don’t even use marijuana (anymore).

  10. #10 |  Scooby | 

    For reference, 10KG is over 350 pounds.

    Actually, it’s about 22 lbs, but the point still stands. Actually, I think they a ten rock should be equal to a 10kg bale of weed for sentencing- both should get exactly zero years and/or a maximum fine of zero dollars, plus no possibility of probation, and no court appearances.

  11. #11 |  OGRE | 

    Ah your right, I was doing grams to ounces and not pounds.

    I would also agree with your proposed sentencing scheme.