Denver voters are deciding on an initiative that says marijuana should be the city's "lowest law-enforcement priority."
To find out how the law works, Denver can look to Seattle, where an 11- member panel began reviewing marijuana incidents in 2003 to see whether police and prosecutors were pursuing cases against adults who possessed small amounts of marijuana.
Seattle City Attorney Thomas Carr, who says he is required to sit on the panel, says he hopes Denver doesn't pass the initiative.
"The panel is slanted toward proponents of the law," Carr said. "It does not work all that well. We get yelled at a lot by people in the room. Telling police and prosecutors to look the other way on a crime is really bad policy."
Dominic Holden, a community representative on Seattle's panel, says that citations and prosecutions for marijuana-related incidents declined by 50 percent a year after the initiative passed.
"The law does not tell police to ignore state or federal law," he said. "It simply tells them where on the schedule of priorities these arrests fall."
Although the committee cannot agree on why the numbers of marijuana arrests and prosecutions are down in Seattle, city officials have sent a letter to Denver endorsing the law as safe, effective and inexpensive.
The Seattle group also found no evidence of an increase in marijuana use among young people, crime or adverse effects on public health.
Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, spokeswoman for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, said that marijuana-possession cases already are a low law-enforcement priority.
"It isn't something police specifically target for enforcement or to which they deploy significant resources," she wrote in an e-mail. "Generally, when a person is charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana - as the state law requires - it is because the marijuana was uncovered by police during the course of investigating another crime."
In 2004, Seattle police officers were told during roll call that marijuana incidents would be their lowest priority.
But Denver police Sgt. Ernie Martinez says he's not going to direct officers to stop arresting drug users.
"Our official response is to continue to enforce marijuana laws," Martinez said. "It's still illegal in the state statues and federal statutes."
That philosophy is the reason why marijuana proponents felt the need to draft an initiative in Denver.