Marijuana possession court cases in limbo
By Michael Maresh
Journal Staff Writer
Residents being arrested or cited for marijuana possession may never be prosecuted after voters earlier this month approved legalizing the drug.
While Gov. John Hickenlooper has yet to sign the proclamation that will make this a state law, once he does it will make possessing less than one ounce of marijuana legal in the state.
Portions of Amendment 64 are expected to take effect in early December, since Hickenlooper was given 30 days to sign the bill into law following the Nov. 6 election.
A few cities in Colorado have already decided not to prosecute possession-of-marijuana cases, with one district attorney on the Front Range saying he will not prosecute cases that occurred before Amendment 64 passed.
Incoming 22nd Judicial District DA Will Furse said his views are similar to that of the Boulder district attorney, who said the people have spoken.
Several police agencies, knowing there would be no prosecution, have stopped enforcing this law.
Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell said his deputies are doing business as usual because the law has yet to change.
He pointed out that possession of marijuana under two ounces, as it is now, is a petty offense which does includes a citation or ticket but not any jail time.
“No one will be jailed for possession of marijuana,” he said. “Nothing has changed in my office. We will do business as usual because it is not the law (right now).”
Spruell also said the citation for possession would be similar to the ticket an individual would receive for jaywalking.
The sheriff said he understands the citations his deputies hand out could be dismissed by either the court or the DA’s office in the future.
Furse said it could be difficult to charge someone with something that others are doing legally.
Furse said once the governor signs the bill it becomes the law of the land, though the regulations dealing with how to sell it in retail stores is still something that needs to be worked out.
Furse said when he takes office in January, possession cases will be something he will have to look at more closely.
“My administration will work in concert with law enforcement and decide whether to dismiss charges initiated before Amendment 64’s certification on a case-by-case basis, Furse said in an email. “There are far too many variables in each case to implement a blanket rule.”
However, he said it will be up to local law enforcement to decide if its valuable resources ought to be spent on additional marijuana-related arrests considering this law’s inevitable implementation.
The city of Cortez is adopting a wait-and-see attitude and would like to see how the Colorado legislature handles the law.
City Manager Shane Hale said the city is not bound by any action, though he conceded that once Hickenlooper signs it into law it would become legal under state law.
“From a city standpoint there is a lot of uncertainty,” Hale said, and added not a lot of direction has been given to municipalities.
At the Nov. 13 city council meeting, Hale provided council members with a letter from the Colorado Municipal League about Amendment 64 and the potential impacts.
The council did not address the letter, and Hale said it was for informational purposes only.
According to the letter from the CML, local governments may prohibit this law from going into effect by council action at any time, but the first opportunity to refer a marijuana prohibition question to the ballot in the general election is Nov. 4, 2014.
In the letter the CML said that it will keep its members informed on employee-employer issues as it relates to the use and possession of marijuana in the workplace.
Hale said when the city council discusses Amendment 64, it could be in the format of a public hearing because a lot of input from everyone will be needed.
Ultimately, Hale said, any decision regarding marijuana will be the council’s call.
CML attorney Rachel Allen, in the letter, said it is possible a lawsuit challenging the implementation of the amendment is forthcoming, which she added would set up a dynamic discussion of the 10th Amendment and the extent of state sovereignty on this issue.