Routt County law enforcement lax on marijuana laws

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By the numbers

Summonses to appear in court issued by the Steamboat Springs Police Department:

2008

67 adults

10 younger than 18

2009

67 adults

15 younger than 18

2010

78 adults

13 younger than 18

2011

64 adults

15 younger than 18

2012*

49 adults

14 younger than 18

*Figures through September

By the numbers

Summonses to appear in court issued by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office:

2008

7 adults

0 younger than 18

2009

11 adults

2 younger than 18

2010

16 adults

2 younger than 18

2011

11 adults

1 younger than 18

2012*

15 adults

3 younger than 18

*Figures through September

— Local law enforcement officials said enforcing existing marijuana laws has not been a burden, and the numbers prove it.

While some proponents of Amendment 64 have said legalizing marijuana would allow police and the criminal justice system to concentrate on more important things, Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae said it actually could have the opposite effect if police are tasked with making sure potential pot shops are complying with the laws.

According to records provided by the Routt County Sheriff’s Office, deputies issued an average of about 11 tickets each of the past four years to adults for possessing marijuana.

“As you can see, it’s never been a high priority,” Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said.

At the Steamboat Springs Police Department, officers issued an average of 69 tickets to adults each of the past four years.

“We certainly haven’t taken an aggressive approach on it,” Rae said, adding that he estimates officers more frequently have issued warnings to people for possessing marijuana.

He said it takes an officer about 10 minutes to write the ticket, which is a summons to appear in court.

“Let’s put that in perspective,” Rae said.

During the course of a year, that means about 12 hours are spent issuing $100 tickets to adults for possessing marijuana, Rae said. With 16 officers assigned to the patrol division, that means each officer now has an additional 40 minutes per year on average to work on other things.

With the passage by voters of Amendment 64 on Nov. 6, adults ages 21 and older will be allowed to possess paraphernalia, as much as an ounce of marijuana and as many as six plants. The amendment also outlined a timeline for the state to begin issuing licenses to pot shops by January 2014.

In the court system, Routt County District Attorney Brett Barkey said the passage of Amendment 64 would have minimal impact on the resources devoted to prosecuting marijuana cases.

When someone is issued a ticket for marijuana possession of less than 2 ounces, he or she must appear in Routt County Court and is subject to a $100 fine. Revenue from the fines go to the state. Sometimes, the cases are fairly straightforward, and the person simply shows up to court and pays the fine with little time spent by the court or the District Attorney’s Office.

“I don’t see it as a burden at all, nor do we direct resources that direction,” said Barkey, adding that there are four cases being prosecuted in Routt County that would fall under Amendment 64. “It’s a Class 2 petty offense for a reason.”

Barkey said people charged with only a Class 2 petty offense do not have the right to a jury trial.

People can request a jury trial if there are more serious charges in addition to the marijuana possession, and Barkey said the bulk of the marijuana possession cases that come through the courts involve more serious charges, such as driving under the influence of drugs.

Wiggins and Rae said that often, marijuana possession is discovered and a ticket is issued during the course of arresting someone for another offense.

Although prosecuting marijuana possession cases has not been a burden to the District Attorney’s Office, Barkey said his office will continue to use resources to prosecute more serious marijuana-related crimes that are not subject to Amendment 64 law changes.

“Driving while drugged is illegal,” Barkey said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

rhys jones 2 years, 1 month ago

Hey, maybe if we took some more things off the list of crimes, we wouldn't need so many cops and prosecutors. I LIKE ballots!!

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