by Jack Minor –
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck has defended his decision to continue prosecuting marijuana users saying despite passage of an amendment legalizing the drug’s use, it is currently still illegal and he has a duty to enforce the law.
“What if I were to determine that the will of the people of Weld County was to not enforce some other law and decide not to prosecute it even if it was illegal? You cannot do that,” Buck said.
During the 2012 presidential election, Colorado passed Amendment 64 which made it legal for individuals over 21 to possess and smoke marijuana. However, the law does not take effect until 30 days after the election has been certified by Gov. John Hickenlooper. This effectively means pot smoking will not be legal until next year.
However, several state officials have said that despite marijuana usage still being illegal, they have announced publicly that residents within their jurisdictions are free to light up and smoke away.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett has said he will dismiss pending cases relating to possession. In a similar vein, the city’s Police Chief Mark Beckner announced that officers will no longer be issuing tickets and making arrests for adults over 21 who use marijuana.
Officials in Longmont, Aurora and Denver have also announced they will be dismissing pending marijuana cases.
However, in Weld County pot smokers will get no similar reprieve. District Attorney Ken Buck has announced that until pot smoking becomes legal, he will continue to prosecute offenders.
“Regardless of what people may think, it is still illegal and I have a duty to uphold the laws as written,” Buck said.
The Greeley Tribune, which opposed Amendment 64, has taken issue with Buck’s stance on enforcing the law. In an editorial, the Tribune criticized Buck, saying enforcing the law could cause some to be distrustful of law enforcement officials.
“The fact that someone could get prosecuted one day for an action that the next day is legal and the fact that several jurisdictions already have halted prosecution serves to create an impression that the law is applied arbitrarily. That can only undermine trust in the law and those who enforce it.”
The Tribune then went on to say they hope Buck changes his mind and decides not to prosecute lawbreakers who possess or smoke pot.
“We hope that he’ll follow the lead of other law enforcement officials and the voters of his county. We hope he’ll change his mind about these last-minute prosecutions.”
However, Buck has said he has no intention of halting enforcement of existing laws prohibiting marijuana usage.
“I’m not the one who has created the inequity among other jurisdictions. It is still illegal to smoke and use marijuana,” Buck said.
Buck said he is sympathetic to the concerns by Garnett, who said he would have difficulty getting convictions by jurors in Boulder.
“I think it is more difficult to get these types of convictions in Boulder and I get that. However, I believe that people in Weld County expect us to enforce the law as written. Unlike in Boulder, here in Weld County we have jurors who can enforce the law and not nullify it.”
Buck went on to say a key reason for continuing to enforce the law is his belief on the Constitution and the rule of law.
“I am a strict Constructionist. I look at the Constitution and the law, it is not my job to make the law it is to enforce the law,” Buck said. “We are a nation of laws, we are not a monarchy or other form of government where it is based on the whim of some ruler. It is important for me to do my best to strictly enforce the law and that is what I am attempting to do.”
Buck also noted that his office is not being malicious in its prosecutions, but is doing so to help offenders get help with their addictions.
Supporters of the law sold the issue to voters by saying in ads that the amendment would enable the state to raise revenue for the state by regulating and taxing marijuana sales like alcohol. However, while marijuana usage becomes legal 30 days after the election is certified, officials are not required to begin collecting taxes on the drug until 2017. This effectively means marijuana users could have four years of usage with the state collecting no revenue from the sales.
Unlike alcohol, the amendment states that marijuana sold at a medical marijuana center will not be subject to the tax. This has caused some to be concerned that some could attempt to find a way around the tax by having their recreational use deemed a medical issue.
While the amendment permits local residents desiring to prohibit the sale or marijuana within their towns or cities, they can only do so by placing the measure on a general election ballot and then only in even numbered years. This means that the earliest any municipality could prohibit any marijuana cultivating, manufacturing facilities or marijuana retail stores within its border would be in November of 2014.
However, local governments are required to have regulations in place to allow the licensing for these facilities by October, 2013. This requirement means regardless of the will of local residents, they must allow the sale, growth and manufacture of marijuana for at least a year prior to prohibiting it.
Buck, who was strongly opposed to the amendment, is not alone in his stand to enforce existing law. Officials in Jefferson and Larimer County have said they will likewise refuse to drop any pending cases until the law takes effect.
Buck said he is pleased that other officials are also enforcing the law, but even if he was alone he would still stand for what he feels is right.
“I am not a lone wolf on this, but I don’t mind being a lone wolf on an issue when I know I am right.”