Denver pot proponents plan on unveiling a petition initiative today that would send a question to the voters asking residents to create a new city ordinance designating private adult marijuana possession Denver’s lowest police priority.
Citizens for a Safer Denver are looking for a minimum of 4,000 voter signatures to place the initiative on the November ballot, said the group’s executive director, Mason Tvert.
“Police have every right to use their discretion and refrain from citing people,” Tvert said. “Police don’t cite all people for jaywalking.”
In 2005, the same group successfully passed Initiative 100 which legalized the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for Denver residents that are 21 and older.
The group reported in April that since I-100 passed, simple marijuana arrests in Denver increased by around 13 percent, according to statistics provided by the Denver Police Department Civil Liability Bureau.
The poster girl for this current initiative movement is a 21-year-old Denver college student, Sara Tafoya.
Tafoya was arrested and handcuffed for having less than an eighth of an ounce of marijuana after police pulled her car over for driving without its headlights on at night, said Tvert.
She was charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, having marijuana paraphernalia and not having proper car insurance. Tvert said Tafoya’s insurance was accessible in her vehicle, but instead police kept her in a police car for more than 90 minutes while authorities impounded her car. She was then taken to jail and was held overnight before posting $200 bond and paying $300 to retrieve her car from the impound yard.
Not guilty plea planned
The student plans to plead not guilty this morning to the marijuana possession charge, Tvert said. He added that the judge will likely dismiss the failure to have car insurance charge since she had insurance at the time and still has the same insurance.
Waste of resources
Four officers and three patrol cars were on the scene when Tafoya was arrested, Tvert said.
“Using so many of our city’s limited resources to arrest and jail a harmless citizen like Ms. Tafoya is an outrage,” said Tvert. “This type of incident is a perfect example for why we need to enact this initiative.”
Tvert said his group will help Tafoya with legal counsel if needed, but that since two other I-100 “test cases” were dropped by the city, he is not immediately concerned about seeking legal counsel for Tafoya.
Smoking in Seattle
Seattle voters approved a similar “lowest law enforcement priority” initiative in 2003 concerning marijuana and the number of pot arrests and prosecutions dramatically decreased in the city, Tvert said.
Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell said the Denver City Attorney’s office will not comment on the “legal merits or the legal force and effect” of the proposed initiative.
A public review with the proponents and city officials was held last Monday.
Tvert is confident that the initiative will inspire local law enforcement to stop making as many simple marijuana arrests. He likened the issue to how police interact with patrons of several bars that Mayor John Hickenlooper owns.
“If police can refrain from citing people after they leave our Mayor’s bar a little ‘Hicken-loopy’ there is no reason why they can’t refrain from citing adults who are simply possessing a small amount of pot,” Tvert said, noting that public intoxication is illegal. “We appreciate that our police are out there working to keep us safe, but we believe they could better spend their time arresting drunk drivers and violent offenders.”