Marijuana vote in the bag?
October 17, 2006
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Colorado ballot measure that would decriminalize the possession of a small amount of marijuana among adults has produced little in the way of local protest.In fact, citizens and local law enforcement personnel polled by The Aspen Times voiced mostly support for the measure, or at least support for letting voters decide the matter.Amendment 44 on the Nov. 7 ballot asks if Colorado law should be revised to make the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana legal for anyone 21 or older. Currently, it’s a petty offense under state law, punishable by a fine of up to $100.”The Legislature has, in effect, decriminalized it already,” said Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson, noting its current classification as a minor infraction. It is rare that Aspen police arrest an individual solely for possessing an ounce or less of pot, he added. Typically, the charge comes in conjunction with more serious offenses.An Aspen man was cited last week, though, for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana after he allegedly lit up on Hopkins Avenue.Amendment 44 decriminalizes only possession; the open display or use of marijuana would remain illegal, as would driving under its influence, growing or selling pot, or possessing more than an ounce of the substance. Possession of any amount would remain illegal for those younger than 21.”I think it’s something that should be decriminalized. Let’s not have a ‘legal fiction,'” said Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, referring to a law that’s on the books, but isn’t enforced.Sheriff’s deputies have discretion in handling such possession cases, Braudis said, adding that his officers generally dispose of the marijuana if someone is caught with an ounce or less of pot, rather than issuing a citation.”If a guy gets popped for DUI and he has a small amount [of marijuana], we usually flush it,” Braudis said.Rick Magnuson, an Aspen community safety officer and a candidate for sheriff in next month’s election, said he supports the amendment.”I’m glad it’s on the ballot. I glad we’re having a choice. I’ll enforce whatever the people want,” he said. “I’m going to vote to change the law.”So will most local voters, it seems.Few area residents polled by The Aspen Times voiced qualms with the decriminalization move, though several spoke on the condition of anonymity.”I don’t think it’s a huge deal. To me, it’s just not that serious of a drug,” said Bryan Lague of Aspen.”It’s not a harmful drug. It’s not a narcotic,” agreed Aspen resident Sterling Krone.”Why bother having a law on the books they’re not going to enforce?” added another local resident, who asked not to be identified. “If any law enforcement agency is spending any time on this at all, let’s put our officers to better use.”But Lenny Beaulieu, executive director of the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention, said he’d rather see Colorado “err on the side of caution” and continue to outlaw possession of even small amounts of marijuana.”I think it’s a slippery slope to start chipping away at these laws,” he said. “One more legal drug isn’t going to benefit anybody.”Though the amendment legalizes possession of pot only for adults, Beaulieu said he worries about the implications that a tacit approval of marijuana use sends to youths.”It sends a message that it’s OK to go out and get high,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a message we want to send to our kids.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com