Status quo still reigns in Grand County after Amendment 64
Ryan Summerlin November 20, 2012
Alleged violators of pot laws who have pending court cases and who might soon fall within the parameters of Amendment 64 will still go through the court process in Grand County, according to the 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey.
“It’s still illegal until the governor proclaims the amendment is in effect, and those cases already in the pipeline will be processed,” he said on Tuesday.
Barkey arrived at that policy decision by meeting with all leaders of law enforcement in the 14th Judicial District, he said, “and they were all comfortable with this approach.”
Although Barkey said he is still getting the numbers, the number of cases to which this pertains may amount to fewer than five in Grand County, he said.
Colorado voters’ legalization of small amounts of pot is not due to go into effect until ballots are certified, which could be as late as January. Even then, the state’s citizens will be pushing boundaries, with federal marijuana laws still in conflict, and state leaders waiting to hear from the U.S. Department of Justice for some guidance as they prepare to craft new regulations.
Boulder and Denver are two areas where district attorneys have already wiped clean pending cases of minimal possession of pot, prior to laws taking hold.
In Grand County, where the constitutional amendment to allow up to 1 ounce of pot possession for people ages 21 and older passed with an almost 17-point margin, the Grand County Sheriff’s Office plans to handle offenders “on a case-by-case” basis, according to Sheriff Rod Johnson. “To not charge people would be irresponsible,” he added.
“If the speed limit was 55 a month ago, and it changed to 65, should all the people who had tickets before it changed be let go?” Johnson asked.
Possession of marijuana within the terms of the new amendment has always been treated as a petty offense. Currently, a person charged with less than 2 ounces of marijuana under the current laws receives a summons to court, and can be fined up to $100 with possible community service at the judge’s discretion. The same can be said for a charge of public use of the drug and possession of paraphernalia.
According to Sheriff Johnson, who said he voted against Amendment 64, tickets issued for petty offenses of marijuana in Grand County usually accompany a larger charge, such as a DUI.
“When you are out there on patrol, you don’t necessarily see someone walking down the sidewalk smoking a joint,” Johnson said, saying such tickets are more often issued at outdoor concerts or upon discovery after a traffic-offense stop.
In Winter Park, Chief Glen Trainer said he has not yet had the chance to meet with his command staff to discuss how the force will handle offenders during the interim period before the law takes effect.
If the person found with a small amount of marijuana is older than 21, “I am not sure we would take a real hard-line stance on it,” he ventured. “That’s such a rare thing for us anyway. I don’t see this as having a huge impact on our normal operations.”
Most tickets that have been issued pertaining to marijuana in Trainor’s jurisdiction have been for suspects smoking in public, or for violators under the age of 21 – people who would still be violators under Colorado’s pending legalization, Trainor said.
Chief Bill Housley of the Granby Police Department said his force will continue to operate as it has until the law officially goes into effect. If someone of age is caught with some marijuana, Granby’s law enforcement would “probably still issue a ticket,” he said, adding the department has not had a significant amount of cases like that even under the current law.
A call to Kremmling’s Police Chief Scott Spade was not returned by presstime.
Colorado voters’ acceptance of pot will also allow for individuals to have six (three flowering) plants, currently a class one misdemeanor with a penalty of 6 months to 18 months in jail and $500-$5,000 fine.
Although proponents of Amendment 64 believe Colorado’s tolerance may attract tourism dollars to the state, may become a cash cow for local schools, and will thwart underground sale of pot, “I hate to see it define our state,” Johnson said. “It’ll define us as the dope-smokers of the U.S. It’s kind of sad.”
Footnote on the ballot language
Where some may have voted for the passage of Amendment 64 because of the language to save the state’s schools, even when the law goes into effect, voters should not expect money pouring into school districts.
Upon the passage of Amendment 64, Colorado’s Attorney General John Suthers released statements saying that Coloradans should be cognizant that money for schools is not going to happen automatically because of it.
Proponents of Amendment 64 told voters that a surtax of marijuana sales would result in up to $40 million for K-12 schools. According to Suthers, “Amendment 64 did not comply with required language under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and no such tax will be imposed. Instead, it will be up to the Colorado Legislature whether to refer such a tax to the voters and up to the voters of Colorado whether to actually impose the tax. Therefore, such revenue is speculative and will not be forthcoming when Amendment 64 begins to be implemented.”