Pros, Cons of Pot Bill Debated

Pros, Cons of Pot Bill Debated
Posted by CN Staff on January 31, 2008 at 10:56:05 PT
By Paul H. Heintz, Reformer Staff
Source: Brattleboro Reformer 
Montpelier, VT -- A Windsor County state's attorney whose handling of a marijuana possession case drew controversy last year told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he agrees with a proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The state's attorney, Robert Sand, also presented his own revisions to the bill, including a suggestion to simply confiscate and destroy marijuana found in some cases without further repercussion.
"Make no mistake about it, regardless of the actual consequences, current law says that an adult who uses marijuana is a criminal and a young person who uses is a delinquent," he said. "I am absolutely sure that a majority of Vermonters are not comfortable with that designation." The decriminalization bill, which was introduced by Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, would not legalize marijuana but would make the possession of certain quantities a misdemeanor offense punishable with a ticket and a fine. Many of the specifics of the bill, including where to draw the line between felony and misdemeanor are subject to debate by the Judiciary Committee. Sand argued that criminal justice resources are being squandered because of the time it takes for police officers to process marijuana cases -- two hours on average, he said -- which has the effect of reducing the amount of time they can spend patrolling communities and focusing on other issues. "I'm not sure it's the most intelligent use of our resources," he said. Addressing an argument raised by the bill's opponents that it would be difficult for officers to measure quantities of marijuana in the field, Sand said that 12 other states have already decriminalized possession and have overcome such hurdles. "Are there logistical issues? Absolutely. But 12 other states have figured it out. I think Vermont can figure it out," he said. Of those 12 states, he argued, seven of them were "red states," or those which tend to vote Republican. "This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. This is not a libertarian issue. This is not a Progressive issue," he said. "(It's) how do we want to allocate our criminal justice resources." Sand drew attention late last year after referring a lawyer and part-time judge to court diversion after authorities found marijuana plants growing on her property. Gov. Jim Douglas subsequently ordered state law enforcement agencies to redirect cases involving marijuana in Windsor County to state or federal officials because he believed Sand was not enforcing the law. Douglas later withdrew the order and dropped the issue. Sand told the committee he personally favors removing marijuana from the criminal justice system entirely, but in the interest of compromise, he recommended a four-tier system. The first tier would involve confiscating and destroying the smallest quantities found on a person with no further punishment. The second tier would lead to a ticket that could be paid or waived depending on whether the possessor submitted to a court-adminstered diversion program. The third tier would result in a misdemeanor and the fourth a felony. Sand said the was flexible about what quantities to tie to each tier. Following Sand's testimony, the committee heard the opposite point of view, as expressed by Winooski Police Chief Steve McQueen, who was speaking on behalf of the Vermont Police Association. "Our position is to leave the law the way it is," he said. McQueen said that decriminalization would have a dramatic effect on the drug trade and would encourage violent criminal enterprises to expand their reach. "It's not as benign as you might think," he said. "The money is in marijuana. That's where the money is." McQueen took issue with the idea of potentially decriminalizing up to four ounces of marijuana -- an amount at which he scoffed. "Four ounces? Don't even go there. That's a thousand dollars," he said, joking that he would likely go into a different business if the committee took that approach. "What is the goal of making the change in the first place?" he asked. Newshawk: Fight_4_freedom Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)Author: Paul H. Heintz, Reformer StaffPublished: January 31, 2008Copyright: 2008 Brattleboro Publishing Co.Contact: news reformer.comWebsite: Articles: The Gateway To Common Sense More Sensible Drug Policy is Pot Cultivation for Personal Use Illegal? 
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on February 02, 2008 at 12:08:35 PT
AP: Officials: Don't Relax Pot Law
Saturday, February 2, 2008MONTPELIER (AP)  A top state police official joined a deputy health commissioner and head of the state sheriffs' association Friday in urging Senators against passing a bill that would remove the potential for jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana. 
Despite their pleas, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said after Friday's hearing that he expected to see next week if the committee wants to approve a bill that would remove the six-month misdemeanor jail term now in law for possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana. Sears said he hoped to amend the bill currently before the committee so that someone charged with possession of less than 2 ounces would have a choice of two outcomes: entrance into a court diversion program, perhaps including drug treatment and community service, which would result in no criminal record, or payment of a fine, which would be simpler but would result in a record. He and other committee members said they planned to drop from the bill provisions that would lighten penalties not just for possession, but for sale of small amounts of the illicit plant. In the face of calls from some quarters for decriminalizing marijuana and making possession of small amounts subject to a civil penalty like a traffic ticket, Sears said his hope was to "keep it criminal but take away the jail time that is associated with it." That comment in an interview came after the committee took testimony from public officials with a dim view of any of the changes that have been contemplated. Vermont State Police Maj. Thomas L'Esperance, commander of the force's criminal division, noted that a leading backer of reforming Vermont's marijuana law, Windsor County States Attorney Robert Sand, had cited youth surveys indicating 55 percent of high school students had tried the drug. "What about the 45 percent who have not tried it?" L'Esperance asked. "Because it's a crime this might be a stick kids use to not get involved. ... Why would we take that away from those 45 percent?" Copyright: 2006 Associated Press
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