DA proceeding with caution on pot cases
Ryan Summerlin December 1, 2012
SUMMIT COUNTY – With prosecutors taking sides pending marijuana cases after voters approved Amendment 64 legalizing the possession of up to an ounce of the drug, outgoing Summit County DA Mark Hurlbert said he’s going to take a look at cases in the 5th Judicial District.
“That’s something we’re going to take a look at on a case-by-case basis,” Hurlbert said. “Right now the law tells me that I have to prosecute those cases.”
There are no pending cases against people over the age of 21 for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in Summit County, a fact that reflects local law enforcement’s already fairly relaxed stance on the issue even prior to the approval of the legalization measure.
“It was never a priority for us, really, unless you brought attention to yourself,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said recently. “It’s still, as far as we know, on the books … but it’s not going to be a huge priority for us and it hasn’t been for some time.”
Marijuana is already decriminalized in Breckenridge, although neither that law nor the new constitutional amendment make it legal to use the substance publicly or to drive while under its influence.
There are 14 cases of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana pending in Eagle County and an additional 12 in Clear Creek, both of which fall into Hurlbert’s District 5, which he says will require careful consideration.
Marijuana activists have urged prosecutors across the state to drop outstanding marijuana charges in the wake of the voters’ decision to legalize the substance for adults over the age of 21, and Hurlbert was no exception.
Local marijuana attorney and advocate Sean McAllister recently emailed Hurlbert asking him to discontinue prosecution of all pending possession and paraphernalia cases.
“On this issue, Mark Hurlbert has not represented the community well,” McAllister said. “His personal views have always prohibited him from acknowledging the majority will of the 5th Judicial District of not wanting to criminalize marijuana users, and it’s unfortunate if he’s unwilling to dismiss these cases like several other DAs have done.”
McAllister urged individuals with pending marijuana-related charges to go to trial rather than accepting plea bargains, saying he didn’t expect there would be much chance of conviction.
Incoming District Attorney Bruce Brown, a defense lawyer from Evergreen who beat out current assistant DA Scott Turner for the district’s top prosecutor job in the recent election, takes a more relaxed stance on marijuana issues.
Prior to the election, he promised to dismiss drug paraphernalia cases for offenders committed to ending drug or alcohol dependency.