Drug Policy

Will Denver's D.A. Finally Listen to Voters Who Want Him to Stop Prosecuting Pot Smokers?

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Yesterday I noted that some local prosecutors in Washington have stopped pursuing marijuana possession cases covered by that state's legalization initiative, I-502, even though the measure does not officially take effect until December 6. Today Boulder County, Colorado, District Attorney Stan Garnett likewise announced that he will dismiss all pending marijuana cases involving possession of less than an ounce or possession of marijuana paraphernalia by defendants who are 21 or older. Colorado's legalization initiative, Amendment 64, takes effect after the final canvass is complete, which happens within 30 days of the election, and the vote is certified, which can take up to 30 days more, so the process might not be completed until January. Garnett explained his decision this way:

The standard for beginning or continuing criminal prosecution is whether a prosecutor has reasonable belief they can get a unanimous conviction by a jury. Given Amendment 64 passed by a more than 2-to-1 margin [in Boulder County], we concluded that it would be inappropriate for us to continue to prosecute simple possession of marijuana less than an ounce and paraphernalia for those over 21.

Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said his department has stopped issuing summonses in such cases.

Amendment 64's backers argue that other prosecutors, such as Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, should follow Garnett's example. "The bulk of Colorado marijuana possession arrests occur in Denver," they note in a press release, "and the city's voters have passed multiple initiatives intended to stop the arrest and prosecution of adults 21 and older for private marijuana possession," including a 2005 initiative that eliminated local penalties for possession and a 2007 initiative that said marijuana possession should be the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Morrissey nevertheless continued to prosecute pot smokers under state law. "A strong majority of Coloradans made it clear that they do not believe adults should be made criminals for possessing small amounts of marijuana," says Mason Tvert, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign. "Colorado prosecutors can follow the will of the voters by dropping these cases today and announcing they are no longer taking on new ones."