About 120 people are facing charges for possessing relatively small amounts of marijuana in Weld County, and local authorities said they won't follow the lead of other counties that have decided to drop those cases before Amendment 64 takes effect.
Although several counties, including Boulder and Denver, have already stopped prosecuting low-level marijuana possession cases, Weld District Attorney Ken Buck said he won't do the same. Buck, an avid opponent of Amendment 64, said he plans to decide whether to continue prosecuting those cases when the amendment takes effect, which is expected to happen within the next month or so. The amendment legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
"We'll make a decision at that time when we know more about the future of this constitutional amendment," Buck said.
Heath Montgomery, spokesman for the district attorney's office, said of the 120 people who are facing marijuana possession charges, about 90 would still face other charges if their small possession charges were dropped. He said most people accused of having small amounts of pot are also accused of other crimes, ranging from traffic violations to assault.
Buck said dropping charges against people caught with less than 1 ounce of marijuana wouldn't have much of an impact on the time or money his office spends. He said he thinks legalizing any possession of marijuana will put more of a burden on prosecutors.
"It's going to increase our workload with all of the related crimes that will take place," he said.
In 2011, 304 marijuana-related cases were prosecuted in Weld County, according to the district attorney's office. Through October of this year, Buck's office prosecuted 222 similar cases. Montgomery said those numbers make up a small portion of the office's annual case load of more than 15,000.
Buck said other district attorneys have decided not to pursue charges that wouldn't hold under Amendment 64 because they don't think jurors would convict for those crimes. He said he thinks Weld County jurors would, so he's staying his course until the law changes.
"We have an ethical obligation to only file cases that we have a reasonable belief will result in conviction," Buck said.
Buck added he thinks people are underestimating the amount of marijuana that Amendment 64 allows. He said he'll continue to prosecute as a way to provide help to drug addicts.
"An ounce of marijuana is 60 joints, and it's not a small amount," Buck said. "For a heavy user, that would constitute three months worth of drugs."
In addition to district attorneys refusing to continue with small-scale marijuana possession charges, some Colorado cities, such as Aurora and Grand Junction, have decided there's no point in arresting people found with small amounts of marijuana.
Greeley Police Chief Jerry Garner said his department will continue to follow the law, whatever it may be. He said his office will wait until the law changes to stop arresting for possessing or growing a small amount of marijuana.
"We're not the body that makes the law," Garner said. "We're the folks that enforce it."
Garner said low-level marijuana arrests don't make much difference either way.
"We have very few small-amount marijuana cases, so it's not as though we're stuffing the courts with those cases," he said.
The amendment to the state's constitution inched by in Weld County, with 50.67 percent of voters casting ballots in favor of the measure. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has until Dec. 6 to ratify the statewide vote, and Gov. John Hickenlooper will have 30 days to sign the amendment. ___
(c)2012 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.)
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