The mayor's marijuana review panel voted 5-4 Wednesday to recommend to the City Council that Denver stop prosecuting adults for possession of small amounts of pot.
Backers of the resolution called it a another step in the right direction for Denver voters who passed an initiative in 2005 to remove penalties for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
In 2007, voters passed another initiative making the arrest and prosecution of adults who possess marijuana "the city's lowest law enforcement priority."
"This sends a strong message, and hopefully (police and prosecutors) will be taking that into account," said Brian Vicente, panel chairman and a supporter of the resolution.
Even with Wednesday's vote, the review panel won't be forwarding the recommendation to the City Council until 2009, when it will also will provide the number of Denver arrests for marijuana possession and the number of prosecutions conducted by the city attorney's office.
Vincent A. DiCroce, an assistant city attorney and panel member, voted against the resolution, saying it was premature for the panel to make recommendations when it hasn't yet collected those statistics.
DiCroce, director of prosecution for the city attorney, also questioned whether the City Council could dictate to his office how to carry out its prosecutorial duties.
In a related development, DiCroce said he has been in talks with the chief county judge to streamline the process for people given citations for marijuana possession.
DiCroce said under proposed procedures, suspects would no longer be required to appear before a judge and attend court hearings. Instead, anyone arrested would be able to pay fines by mail, similar to the way people pay fines for parking tickets.
At a previous meeting, DiCroce said his office doesn't pursue many petty marijuana cases anyway.
Mason Tvert, panel member and executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, or SAFER, which helped lead the passage of the voter initiatives, said he had mixed feelings about the proposed changes. Tvert said the city attorney's office is taking the initiatives seriously because it's becoming easier for people who have been arrested for pot possession to avoid the court's bureaucracy.
"Overall, it's a good step forward because it shows that the city's coming around to understand that it's not worth its time and resources to worry about cases of adult marijuana possession," Tvert said.
On the other hand, he said, by making it easier for the accused to pay fines, they are admitting guilt.
"This just makes it easier for people to check off a box as opposed to going to court and hearing their options and understanding they could plead not guilty," Tvert said. "This makes it easier for them to keep doing what they're doing and issuing citations. We don't think they should be issuing citations at all and neither do the people of Denver."
Voting in favor: Tvert; Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado; Philip A. Cherner, defense lawyer; Frank Moya, defense attorney and the resolution's author; and Sandy Mullins, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
Voting against: DiCroce; Denver police Lt. Ernie Martinez, president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association; Councilman Doug Linkhart; and Dora-Lee Larson, representative of the Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council.
Rocky Mountain News