By Gayle S. Putrich | Colorado Watchdog
Colorado voters’ Nov. 6 decision to legalize marijuana in the state is working as a “get out of jail free” card for some.
Boulder District Attorney Stan Garnett was the first to announce on Nov. 14, via Twitter, that his office is dismissing pending marijuana possession and paraphernalia cases involving less than 1 ounce of weed for defendants older than 21.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey — who opposed Amendment 64 during the election — followed suit days later, saying prosecutors in Denver will no longer charge those older than 21 caught with an ounce of marijuana or less and that current cases are being reviewed with an eye to the upcoming change. The change to the state constitution had the support of 67 percent of Denver voters; about 55 percent of voters statewide voted to make marijuana legal.
About 70 Denver cases could be affected by Amendment 64’s changes, said Lynn Kimbrough, Morrissey’s spokeswoman.
But Kimbrough also said not all Denver possession cases will be dropped automatically. Those who have been cited still must show up to court and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis — and cases for those underage or that involve more charges than possession are unlikely to just disappear in a puff of smoke, she said.
And nothing about Amendment 64 is retroactive, so those who have pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine must still do so.
Marijuana has been on its way toward decriminalization in Denver for a while. A change in local law seven years ago reduced being caught with an ounce or less to being on par with a traffic ticket for those older than 21, she said.
Kimbrough also warned that legalization under Amendment 64 doesn’t mean it’s OK to get high out on the streets of the Mile-High City.
“You can’t smoke it out on the sidewalk or anything like that,” she said. “We still have a state law banning public consumption.”
Amendment 64 makes it legal to possess marijuana in the amount of 1 ounce or less by those 21 and older and to grow up to six plants, three mature and three immature, in a locked space.
In some Colorado locales, such as Weld County, officials who remain opposed to Amendment 64 plan to keep prosecuting offenders until the change officially goes into effect, according to the Daily Camera.
Plus, the paranoia has set in for some. How the federal government will enforce the marijuana law remains unclear, and Colorado News Agency columnist Peter Blake predicts it won’t be long before the voters’ decision is flipped by the feds.
“We’ll be lucky if the issue is settled in court and not in the streets by FBI agents and federal troops,” he writes.
But members of Congress, lead by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-District 1, are working to keep the drug legal in states where voters have made their pro-pot voices heard. She introduced a bill Nov. 16 that would exempt states that pass marijuana legalization legislation from the federal Controlled Substances Act.
It’s a matter of state’s rights, DeGette said Friday.
“In Colorado we’ve witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers,” she said. “My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking other punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens.”
DeGette’s is joined in her effort by representatives from other states, including Oregon where a vote to legalize weed failed this year 54 percent to 46 percent, and even members of the Colorado delegation who opposed Amendment 64.
“I voted against Amendment 64 and I strongly oppose the legalization of marijuana, but I also have an obligation to respect the will of the voters given the passage of this initiative, and so I feel obligated to support this legislation,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-District 6.
Contact Gayle Putrich at [email protected]
— Edited by Therese Umerlik, [email protected]