Missoula Heeds Voters on Pot Arrests; Denver Still Deaf

In sharp contrast with the authorities in Denver, who essentially ignored a 2005 ballot initiative that repealed local penalties for marijuana possession, the top prosecutor in Missoula County, Montana, has asked police to stop arresting pot smokers, citing a 2006 referendum that said such arrests should be the lowest law enforcement priority. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg strongly opposed the referendum but is nonetheless heeding the message sent by voters:

"In the interest of compliance with the 2006 voter initiative on marijuana...we are asking law enforcement officers to stop arresting individuals or writing and submitting tickets (with mandatory appearance dates) where the offense committed is solely possession of marijuana in misdemeanor amounts or possession of drug paraphernalia intended for use of marijuana," according to a draft of the policy by Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, an outspoken opponent of the measure.

Van Valkenburg's policy also instructs deputy prosecutors to charge misdemeanor marijuana cases on a lowest-priority basis when marijuana is the sole offense

"We will treat them as uncharged cases that will be assigned to a prosecutor and charged on a lowest priority basis," according to the policy. "If charged, we will seek issuance of a summons with the complaint."

If a defendant is charged but has no criminal record of consequence, county attorneys will offer a deferred prosecution agreement rather than filing formal charges. No court appearance would be required.

In Denver, where police have continued to charge people for marijuana possession under state law, the folks behind the 2005 initiative are trying again with a measure similar to the one passed in Missoula County. It sounds like the Denver initiative is worded more strongly than Missoula County's, which the Missoulian (paraphrasing Van Valkenburg) characterizes as "a mere suggestion to county law enforcement." By contrast, the Denver initiative says "the Denver Police Department and 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" (emphasis added). Given the impact that a "mere suggestion" had in Missoula, I may have been wrong to describe the Denver measure as "purely symbolic." And whatever its practical impact, its symbolism is important as an expression of public disenchantment with at least some aspects of the war on drugs.

[Thanks to Jamie Kelly for the tip.]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • iih||

    Fix the title!

  • Episiarch||

    Some sanity rears its head. More referendums like this could have a powerful effect, methinks.

    Of course, you have to live in a place which has referendums, but it's a damn good start. Votes like these send a very clear message to the politicians who are reflexively for the WOD, and have convinced themselves that 99.38% of the population agrees.

  • VM||

    Denver is deaf from that straw-on-concrete sound that's rapidly approaching them....

    listen

    s ssss sssswwweeee sweeeeep

    it's getting louder...

  • iih||

    VM: Ha! Sweep it is going to be indeed.

  • ||

    It might have to be done one county at a time but I really believe that pot will be legal in very short time.

    Too many people now know that all drug users aren't slimebags, despite the best efforts of the ONDCP, DEA, etc. and, as noted, people are more and more disenfranchised by the WoD. $16 billion down the tubes this year to date already.

  • ||

    A less vigorous prosecution of the WOD is a good thing, but it's more hope than progress. I remember the 70's when pot was pretty much decriminalized. The fact that it wasn't legal left enough criminal residue to set the stage for Nancy Reagan. We need a legal market. Still, it's good to see drug war madness getting rolled back.

  • ||

    Can't we ALL just get a BONG???

  • iih||

    Can't we ALL just get a BONG???

    Socialized government-sponsored?

  • VM||

    Now a good sweep would be to sweep these silly WoD laws right out.

  • ||

    I love this take-upon-yourself-at-a-local-level thing. Change starts at home and all that...

    I suppose, since the federal government won't listen to reason, and some states don't listen either, this local refusing to enforce is the best way to make these changes.

    To people more versed in local government: Is there anything the Feds can do to local law enforcement if they refuse to enforce certain laws?

  • robc||

    To people more versed in local government: Is there anything the Feds can do to local law enforcement if they refuse to enforce certain laws?

    Cut off some grants and other funding, maybe. Which I see as a good thing. No WOD enforcement and no funding for SWAT teams? Win - win!!

  • ||

    Is there anything the Feds can do to local law enforcement if they refuse to enforce certain laws?

    Yes, in the 60's many southern states refused to enforce civil rights laws (like the requirement for integrated waiting rooms at interstate bus stations). The Feds stepped in, and part of the fall out was the prosecution of some law enforcement officers. But I think those cops all had a hand in breaking the law. I don't know if anyone was ever convicted of merely not enforcing the law.

  • ||

    Is there anything the Feds can do to local law enforcement if they refuse to enforce certain laws?

    Officially, probably. But law enforcement is pretty damn selective as it is.

  • ||

    Good for Missoula Mont. DA. May this be a stepping stone to a better job.

  • ||

    I bet the jackbooted thugs at the Missouri River Drug Task Force are pissed.

  • ||

    I really believe that pot will be legal in very short time.

    And cigarettes will be illegal.

    My brain hurts.

  • Episiarch||

    My brain hurts.

    That's just the skunk weed you just smoked. Have a cigarette, it'll help.

  • ||

    Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg strongly opposed the referendum but is nonetheless heeding the message sent by voters:

    I'm unaware of his entire record, but this would make me vote for the guy's re-election! He displays commendable morality. That is, the desires of the people outweigh my personal opinion.

  • Spock||

    "That is, the desires of the people outweigh my personal opinion."

    Didn't I tell ya...? The needs of the many, out weigh the needs of the few.

  • Mark||

    There's not much the Feds can legally do- local authorities aren't generally responsible for the enforcement of federal laws, so the law the local cops aren't enforcing is the state law. The state may be able to intervene, but that's tough to justify as well, unless the state passes a law or regulation that negates the local resolution. Since Missoula is the second biggest county in the state, I have a hard time believing that state politicians will want to piss off about 10% of their potential voters.

  • Alice Bowie||

    It might have to be done one county at a time but I really believe that pot will be legal in very short time.

    On the Contrary

    Pretty soon, we will be buying cigarettes by the nickle bag from the same corner where they sell crack, herion, and angel dust

    Since the prohibition of cigarettes is well on the way...and neo-prohibitionist like MADD are making anything that has to do with alcohol illegal...I don't see the legalization of any other vices.

  • Episiarch||

    The needs of the many, out weigh the needs of the few.

    Or the one. I have been, and always shall be, your friend. Live long...and prosper.

    KHAAANNNNNN!!!

  • ||

    I have a hard time believing that state politicians will want to piss off about 10% of their potential voters.

    Few voters get pissed of when cops clean up the streets by cracking down on dirty druggies, even the ones who voted for the referendum. There's likely a much larger percentage that approves of busting skulls when it comes to drug users, who get very pissed off at pinko pansy prosecutors who go along with this hippie crap.

  • FlowerPower||

    ".....hippie crap."

    You mean, like..."get us out of Vietnam. ??

    a-hole

  • ||

    I live in the southern suburbs, not in Denver. But the authorities in Denver embarrass so many of us with their sad continued enforcement.

  • ||

    ...who go along with this hippie crap.

    In this case, the "hippie crap" is about advancing individual liberty.

  • ||

    In this case, the "hippie crap" is about advancing individual liberty.

    A lot of the "hippie crap" I adopted back in the days, I haven't repudiated. A lot was complete BS. Summer of Love, Back to Nature ludditism (is that a word?) and so on. Still weird people have some good ideas sometimes.

  • ||

    VM:

    s ssss sssswwweeee sweeeeep

    it's getting louder...


    Well, we still have the Buffs...No wait!

  • ||

    We still have our Broncos. (That ons's true)

  • Lloyd||

    So you're telling me there's a chance.....

  • ||

    I'm not a hippie but I definitely believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility. I'm re-reading Lysander Spooners Vices are Not Crimes and the first paragraph is right on:

    "Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.

    Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.

    Vices are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property.

    In vices, the very essence of crime --- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another --- is wanting.

    It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of another. But no one ever practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practises his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice toward others.

    Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights of another man to the control of his own person and property.

    For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it would be to declare truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth."

  • ||

    J sub D:

    Still weird people have some good ideas sometimes.

    Yep-And truth is where you find it!

    I like some of the music from the Summer of Love.

  • ||

    It bothers me that the drug warriors aren't even willing to make a concession in their neverending battle to eradicate the concepts of personal choice and personal responsibility. Why will they not concede, at the least, that the War on Marijuana™ is a waste of time and a failure? If they did that, they could at least claim that the focus of the WOD is drugs that have a substantial risk of causing harm to users; drugs like heroin or crack.

    Not that I would agree with the WOD even if that logic was used to attempt to justify it, but really, the war on pot defies every attempt to analyze it objectively. It makes no sense whatsoever. It seems to be based solely on junk science and using the state as an armed moralizing organ.

  • ||

    I yield to myself such time as I may consume to advise and extend my remarks.

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to make it perfectly clear that on the issue of drug legalization I am four square, 110% in bed with the hippies. I even like their music and some of the nice leather craft. Outside of that, I wish I could make them all read "the wealth of nations".

    Previously I made some remarks that might be construed as disparaging my hippie brothers. Let me now clarify that I was merely paraphrasing what I believe to be a prevailing attitude. My remark was intended to be taken in a mocking and sarcastic manner.

    I yield back the balance of my time.

  • ||

    In vices, the very essence of crime --- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another --- is wanting.

    Not true, what about the harm caused by negative downstream effects on society?

    It bothers me that the drug warriors aren't even willing to make a concession in their neverending battle to eradicate the concepts of personal choice and personal responsibility. Why will they not concede, at the least, that the War on Marijuana is a waste of time and a failure?

    Your 'personal choice and personal responsibility' end when they result in harm to society, i.e. increased health care costs, lost productivity, etc. Marijuana use tends to lead to other things, which is why it must be illegal.

    It seems to be based solely on junk science and using the state as an armed moralizing organ.

    It is the responsibility of the state to enforce Gods morals. Science is not true if it is only factually correct, it must also be politically correct.

  • ||

    hahahahaha

  • ||

    juanita that it much better snark.

  • ||

    Eh, Warren, it's okay to hate hippies and be against the WOD. I see no contradiction there. Come on, tell us how you really feel. ;)

  • ||

    Can't Denverites just elect a new Sheriff or Prosecutor?

  • dhex||

    It is the responsibility of the state to enforce Gods morals.

    man yer gonna regret this when the 5 percenters take over.

    get used to being called earth, sister.

  • ||

    I like some of the music from the Summer of Love.

    I love some of the the Music From the Summer of Love.

  • Liberté||

    Juanita, what type of weed are you smoking?
    Name:

  • ||

    Can't Denverites just elect a new Sheriff or Prosecutor?

    We can only hope.
    NORML - That might be a good use of your dollars.

  • VM||

    Rick -

    sigh. true.

    One of my best friends (from Denver, originally), was back in town and was at the game against Pissburgh! What a barn burner!

    for those relatively new to the site, "Juanita" or "Juan" or "Jane" is a troll-like commenter who makes outrageous statements like that. It's probably a regular joking around, but simply ignore!

  • ||

    Warren:

    My remark was intended to be taken in a mocking and sarcastic manner.

    Yea! I thought that that had to be the case if it was you. And it was cuz it is you. Groovy!

    Now, FlowerPower, take back that you called Warren an "a-hole".

  • Minion of URKOBOLD||

    "FLOWER POWER" IS FRIENDS WITH THE OKRIN MAN. WE HAVE PHOTOGRAPHIC EVIDENCE.

  • ||

    Warren...

    I don't know the definition of "hippie" round these parts, but I am own by self-definition. Self-sufficiency...growing and raising or hunting our own food, I suppose "dropping out" in that we don't get sucked into the consumer culture and we have a lot more money for that. We and our neighbours even smoke our own fish. Or can it (home-canned albacore is a gajillion times better than that store-bought crap).

    I love the comp, I use for my work, but if it disappeared tommorrow that would be alright. Love Seattle and Vancouver, BC and media, but again, if it went away..we'd be fine.

    As for making cigarettes illegal...if I wanted to I'd grow my own tobacco and pot. In my huge herb garden, medicinal and cooking.

    Yeah...I believe in herbal medicine...as well as modern medicine. I notice a knee jerk tendency to discount it because it reeks of "hippie".

    We can make just about everything we NEED from home or from friends. Even cloth from a friend who is a weaver. If petroleum became a problem, we've already discussed alternatives for our boat, a commerical fishing boat.

    And all us "hippies" have guns...and some are right-wingers, some are left wingers..most have a libertarian streak.

    So I am always amused when the word "hippie" gets thrown around. That word does not mean what you think it means. The "summer of love" was a bunch of kids playing...as was Woodstock. The real "hippies" quietly kept on doing their thing for the past 40 years while the majority of those players went on to other things.

  • ||

    The Guardian UK has an article out that cites a study noting that Marijuana decriminalization lowers marijuana use among teens and young adults:

    From the Guardian UK article:

    British Crime Survey statistics showed that the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds using cannabis slumped from 28% a decade ago to 21% now, with its declining popularity accelerating after the decision to downgrade the drug to class C was announced in January 2004.

    Maybe studies like these can be used to help convince local pols to decriminalize.

  • Paul||

    We and our neighbours even smoke our own fish.

    ?! Wow, you guys know how to party. Most people just stick to the usual joint laced with LSD.

  • Paul||

    The "summer of love" was a bunch of kids playing...as was Woodstock.

    Didn't George Harrison find them to be a bunch of "spotty teenagers"?

  • Paul||

    By the way, do we like the initiative process, or do we hate it?

  • ||

    By the way, do we like the initiative process, or do we hate it?

    Hmmm, I've signed petitions to get initiatives on the ballot.

    OTOH, I also have misgivings about the process. I think that democracy is a system that works better damped.

    Can I go with a love/hate answer?

  • iih||

    I'm not a hippie but...

    Can't people stand up for a principle without fearing to be labeled and getting defensive?

    (Don't mean to pick up on you james.)

  • ||

    Capelza,
    It's the not the lifestyle that bothers some of us about hippies, it's the doctrine. Anti-market philosophies are just ignorant. And worse, so many that hold those philosophies are simply hypocrites that participate in the market but somehow feel like they can wash their hands of the supposed harm caused by capitalism.

  • ||

    My daughter thinks I'm a hippie because of the dreads. So that's where the disclaimer came from it's a reflex action. Nothing wrong with hippies unless you believe Cartman. ;0)

  • ||

    Hippie?:

    I live back in the woods, you see
    A woman and the kids, and the dogs and me
    I got a shotgun rifle and a 4-wheel drive
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive

    I can plow a field all day long
    I can catch catfish from dusk till dawn
    We make our own whiskey and our own smoke too
    Ain't too many things these ole boys can't do
    We grow good ole tomatoes and homemade wine
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive

    Because you can't starve us out
    And you cant makes us run
    Cause one-of- 'em old boys raisin ole shotgun
    And we say grace and we say Ma'am
    And if you ain't into that we don't give a damn

    We came from the West Virginia coalmines
    And the Rocky Mountains and the and the western skies
    And we can skin a buck; we can run a trot-line
    And a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive

    I had a good friend in New York City
    He never called me by my name, just hillbilly
    My grandpa taught me how to live off the land
    And his taught him to be a businessman
    He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights
    And I'd send him some homemade wine...

    Hank Williams Jr.

  • ||

    I love hippies some of my best friends....

  • ||

    We did just get done celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jYT1p-M8P8

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4uCuDD94bQ

    Peace Love Liberty-What a groovy combination!

    Make love and money-not war!

    From each as they choose-to each as they are chosen

  • ||

    Is there anything the Feds can do to local law enforcement if they refuse to enforce certain laws?

    Yes -- in Hawaii we had something called the Felix Consent Decree, where the Federal government forced the state to spend huge sums of money on special education, at the expense of the regular public school kids, based on a court decision handed down by a judge with a kid in special education -- a judge who didn't recuse himself for the obvious conflict of interest.

    The Feds did other such acts here, where they basically said, "do what we say, or we'll do it ourselves, spend lavishly, and send you the bill -- which you'd better pay".

    The word "consent" in the title of the Felix Consent Decree was about as apt as saying a woman "consents" to being raped.

  • ||

    By the way, do we like the initiative process, or do we hate it?

    Initiatives act as a further check and balance on government, albeit with some obvious dangers. The politicians most opposed to initiatives in Hawaii are statists on a power trip.

  • iih||

    james:

    I love hippies some of my best friends....

    Ha!

  • Ventifact||

    Initiatives circumvent establishment politics. I love them, even acknowledging that majority will is not often my own will.

  • ||

    "Anti-market philosophies are just ignorant. And worse, so many that hold those philosophies are simply hypocrites that participate in the market but somehow feel like they can wash their hands of the supposed harm caused by capitalism."

    Pinette;

    As a practicing hippy, I would say you are mixing up systems with philosophies. I look at the free market as how we get stuff in exchange for work or something of value. Capitalism, to me, is an economic philosophy which is the polar opposite of Communism in the economic spectrum.

    Capitalism worships money, like Communism worships the state and you may or may not understand, but that's how I see it. I value people above all else and my voluntary relationships with them and I hope that the world is a better place because of this voluntary cooperation. Peace.

    //I also have guns, but would rather not have to use them, because when you kill someone, you take away everything they will become.

  • ||

    The initiative process can work both ways, of course. It can, like in Montana, be used as an environmental sledgehammer (in 1998, "we" banned all cyanide heap-leach mining) or in this case, advance the cause of individual rights.
    As far as hippies go, well ... I live in Missoula (I'm the one who tipped Sullum to this story), and I can tell you that most of the time, they're full of shit on almost every issue. But in this case? Sweet, sweet victory.
    And yes, we should re-elect Van Valkenburg.

  • ||

    I specifically made that distinction with my first sentence. I know you saw that since you deliberately left that part out when you quoted me, so that you could accuse me of not making that distinction.
    you can define yourself as a hippie and make that term your own all you want. hell you can re-define anything. You are still subject to the ribbing that goes along with the popularly accepted definition of your title.

  • ||

    Excuse me, that last comment was directed at zig zag man.

  • ||

    Capitalism worships money, like Communism worships the state
    "Capitalism" doesn't worship anything. Capitalism is an economic philosophy guided by individual rights. Just the same as communism doesn't worship the state. Communism IS the state. And if you think communism doesn't operate on money, what do you suppose it operates on?

    I value people above all else and my voluntary relationships with them and I hope that the world is a better place because of this voluntary cooperation.

    "Voluntary relationships," as in the free exchange of goods and services? Hmmm, sounds familiar.

  • Edgeworth Box||

    You now see my power. Even the Hippies cannot escape!

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement