Stats On MJ Prosecution Difficult To Come By

Stats On MJ Prosecution Difficult To Come By
Posted by CN Staff on November 18, 2007 at 07:10:06 PT
By Tristan Scott
Source: Billings Gazette
Montana -- It's hard to say whether the number of pot prosecutions dropped since Missoula voters passed a referendum aimed at downplaying marijuana offenses last year. In other words, no one knows whether Initiative 2 is working.That's according to John Masterson, who chairs the committee charged with annually tracking, and reporting to taxpayers, how much local government time and money is spent on adult marijuana offenses as compared to other law enforcement issues.
Members of the committee presented the first biannual report on the initiative's progress Wednesday at the weekly meeting of the Board of County Commissioners. Initiative 2 requires the reports.Masterson blamed some of the report's shortcomings on the county's record-keeping processes and said gathering the data was challenging because government systems record little in the way of a time element. To that end, the report does not conclusively show by what percentage, if any, pot busts have declined since the countywide measure was passed by 55 percent of Missoula's electorate. Based on data from the city, the county and the University of Montana, however, the committee reports that "approximately 300 people ... will be cited or arrested for marijuana offenses" by the end of 2007. Of those, 82 will have been arrested by county law enforcement, according to the report's projections.But Masterson also commended a policy drafted last month by Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, who has instructed his deputy prosecutors to charge misdemeanor marijuana cases on a lowest-priority basis when marijuana is the sole offense.Because many marijuana charges are incidental to another crime, meaning a person is booked, searched and arrested for reasons other than drug possession, prosecutors will offer defendants who have no criminal record a deferred prosecution agreement, rather than file formal charges.Van Valkenburg said several defendants have already accepted those agreements. In the event a defendant does not accept the agreement, the case will be forwarded to an unpaid intern.While Masterson said the policy satisfies the committee's expectations of how county officials should be handling personal levels of marijuana - essentially a nonprosecution policy for adult misdemeanor marijuana offenses - he questioned Sheriff Mike McMeekin's promise to continue citing and arresting."A county system which spends the time and money to arrest people for crimes that will not be prosecuted seems to be a waste of resources," the report states.Van Valkenburg applauded the Missoula County commissioners for voting to amend the measure to exclude felony marijuana crimes from the realm of low-priority offenses."The commissioners' decision to amend Initiative 2 was crucial to its success at this point," Van Valkenburg said.Van Valkenburg said the recent arrest of several University of Montana football players on drug-related robbery and burglary charges is evidence that marijuana offenses should not be taken lightly. The athletes were allegedly trying to steal marijuana and money from a drug dealer."The events last week show that people will go to great lengths to obtain either marijuana or money related to marijuana," Van Valkenburg told the commissioners. "These are the felony cases that our office will continue to go after."The report also urges officials with the city and UM to adopt a lowest-priority policy."Attributes of good law and policy include consistency and predictability," the report states. "Because they (the city and the university) are both completely within county boundaries, establishing substantially similar low-priority policies on the university campus and within city limits are therefore desirable."Masterson said he will work to ensure that future data-gathering for the report is automated by computer software, which can export data on a monthly basis.He also requested a modest budget for the committee to acquire such records.The terms of some of the committee's nine members, including Masterson's, will terminate in February. They can then reapply. Complete Title: Stats on Missoula Marijuana Prosecution Difficult To ComeSource: Billings Gazette, The (MT)Author: Tristan ScottPublished: Sunday, November 18, 2007Copyright: 2007 The Billings GazetteContact: speakup billingsgazette.comWebsite: Articles & Web Site:Montana NORML Missoula Co. Atty. Adopts Pot Policy 2 Backers Say Voters Will Being Ignored
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