Governor Reverses Policy on Pot Cases

Governor Reverses Policy on Pot Cases
Posted by CN Staff on December 12, 2007 at 07:54:22 PT
By Daniel Barlow, Vermont Press Bureau 
Source: Times Argus 
Montpelier, VT -- Gov. James Douglas on Tuesday rescinded his policy of bypassing Windsor County State Attorney Robert Sand's office for the prosecution of major marijuana possession cases.Douglas said Tuesday afternoon he was "heartened" to hear this week that Sand, who supports the decriminalization of marijuana, does not have a "blanket policy" to send possession cases to the court diversion program.
Coupled with Sand's recent meeting with Windsor County law enforcement to discuss his views on drug cases, Douglas said he was satisfied the prosecutor does not have a "one size fits all" policy."My office received an e-mail from Mr. Sand today apologizing for the confusion over his policy or lack of policy and stating that he approaches each case on its own merit," Douglas said in a phone interview Tuesday evening. "That's all I can ask of a prosecutor."Douglas last month ordered Vermont State Police and other law enforcement officials in Windsor County to send all felony marijuana cases to the attorney general's office after Sand ordered court diversion for a local attorney after police found 32 marijuana plants at her home.The governor's change of heart comes less than a week after news broke that Orange County State's Attorney William Porter authorized court diversion for a Randolph man arrested with 110 marijuana plants at his home. Douglas said that case did not play a role in his policy change.Nevertheless, the issue has played out with considerable support for Sand's views, and for his determination in airing the issue of how drug use in society should be handled by the justice system. Sand is seeing strong support from attorneys in Washington County, says Kim Cheney of Middlesex, a Montpelier lawyer who formerly served as Vermont attorney general and as a state's attorney. Cheney said he has about 50 attorneys across the county signing onto and helping fund a newspaper advertisement in support of Sand.Cheney said he also struggled with drug policy as a prosecutor during the 1960s, when the country "first discovered this so-called problem." He added that politicians seem to misjudge the public's desire to see discourse on the future of drug laws."I really respect and admire Bobby Sand for taking this issue to the public," Cheney said. "It's long overdue and it seems like most elected officials don't have the courage to do it."Reached at his office in White River Junction Tuesday, Sand said he was happy the controversy between his office and the governor's office was over. He said he contacted the governor's office this week to explain that he does not have a policy regarding marijuana cases."There is not a blanket policy, there never has been a blanket policy and there never will be a blanket policy," said Sand, who noted that his office prosecuted 20 first-offense marijuana cases this year that did not go to diversion.Confusion over Sand's stance on marijuana possession cases seems to stem from a WCAX report in November. That allegation was repeated later by other news outlets and soon morphed into him having a "blanket policy," said Sand, who added that his focus at the time of the initial news reports was an upcoming murder trial."The assertion that I had a blanket policy was what was repeated by people and it seemed to take on a life of its own," Sand said.In his letter to Douglas, who cited the WCAX report for his accusation that the Windsor County prosecutor had a blanket policy during a Vermont Public Radio interview last week, Sand wrote that he apologizes if "anything I have said has contributed to that perception or misperception."WCAX News Director Marcelis Parsons said Tuesday that the station is standing by its reporting. The station could not get Sand on camera when the story broke on Nov. 5, Parsons said, but instead quoted from a phone conversation that Sand had with one of the station's reporters.That quote  "  all first-time marijuana offenders are offered diversion if they have no prior record and I am satisfied the marijuana was only for personal use"  did not include the word "blanket policy."Days later the station began referring to Sand's "policy" in recaps and updates on the story. Parsons said Sand never asked the station for a correction of clarification."We have only used the phrase blanket policy once and the first time was last night," Parsons said, referring to the station's latest report on the back-and-forth between Douglas and Sand.Now that the controversy is over, Sand said he hopes lawmakers and elected officials in Montpelier get serious about debating drug policy.He said he proposed five points of "common ground" to the governor, such as establishing drug courts in all the counties, calling on the U.S. Congress to give the states more authority over drug laws and establishing a bi-partisan commission to "look at resource allocation in combating drug abuse and crime and to consider whether some alternative approaches might enhance public safety."Douglas said he had not yet reviewed those recommendations and declined to discuss specifics. He added that he is open to having dialogue on drug policy, but that he draws the line at suggestions that some drugs should be decriminalized."I oppose legalizing illegal drugs," said the governor, who added that the common ground that both sides could meet at is an opposition to the growing problem of illegal drug use in Vermont.The month-long run-around of Sand's office on major marijuana arrests may not have actually resulted in any cases heading to state and federal prosecutors.Commissioner of Public Safety Kerry Sleeper said Tuesday that as far as he knows no large scale marijuana case has been uncovered by Vermont State Police in that county since the governor's directive.Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)Author: Daniel Barlow, Vermont Press Bureau Published: December 12, 2007 Copyright: 2007 Times ArgusContact: letters timesargus.comWebsite: Articles: Douglas: No Politics in Pot Contradiction Deflects Douglas' Criticism Over MJ Stance Says Drug War Isn't Working
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