Our View: Respecting the will of the people
November 17, 2012
Petty is the word of the week in Routt County, describing both the minor marijuana infractions that local law enforcement officers appropriately no longer are citing, as well as the draconian decision of 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey to move forward with prosecution of pot cases still in the judicial system.
Barkey's announcement Thursday that his office will continue to prosecute the handful of petty marijuana possession cases pending in the 14th Judicial District's three counties — Routt, Moffat and Grand — appears to be a spiteful decision by a man who was a vocal opponent of Amendment 64. We hope judges in the 14th Judicial District do a better job respecting the will of the people than Barkey is.
Barkey's reasoning — "We have an obligation to enforce the law as it is," he told a Steamboat Today reporter — sounds a lot like the stance espoused by Weld County DA Ken Buck, another staunch opponent of Amendment 64 who issued a statement this week justifying his own decision to proceed with prosecuting petty marijuana offenses. Such offenses are those involving possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia. Amendment 64, once certified, will make it legal for Coloradans 21 and older to possess as much as 1 ounce of marijuana. The law is expected to go into effect no later than Jan. 1.
Buck went a step further, adding: "But more importantly, our office prosecutes low-level possession cases to get drug users help with their addictions."
It's safe to assume that a significant motivation for many voters who supported Amendment 64 — it passed with 63 percent of the vote in Routt County — is the unwarranted expense of taxpayer money and government resources on pursuing and prosecuting cases involving small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption. Further, we think many Coloradans agree that the lasting effect of a marijuana conviction — particularly one for a petty offense — on an individual's record is far too harsh given society's general attitude toward the drug. After all, we've come a long way since "Reefer Madness."
So why is Barkey so intent on prosecuting petty marijuana cases still pending in the courts, particularly after the electorate clearly has stated what it thinks about the seriousness, or lack thereof, of minor marijuana possession? Barkey needs to be reminded that as the newly elected district attorney, he is a public servant who should carry out the will of the people he represents. Perhaps he should take a cue from Steamboat Police Chief Joel Rae and Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, who despite their personal opposition to Amendment 64 instructed their officers in the wake of Election Day to immediately stop citing adults 21 and older for possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.
Rae and Wiggins recognized the will of the people, which makes it all the more baffling that Barkey hasn't.