Unenforcement: Can It Be Done?

The cat’s out of the bag, and it’s not going back in. Amendment 64 was approved by voters allowing adults in Colorado to use and grow recreational marijuana. The question now becomes: how do we mandate it?
Law enforcement has struggled in the past with the unclear line between what is legal and what is not. Until 2000, petty amounts of MJ were considered punishable by law, but were easy enough to prosecute. Amendment 20, which was approved by voters in 2000 and allowed medical marijuana to be used by patients with the proper consent, did little to change the amounts being seen by the Larimer County Police Department.
In 2009, Sheriff Justin Smith notes a shift in marijuana culture, with an increase of commercial sales as well as licensing. Perhaps this led us to the inevitable Amendment 64, which allows any Colorado adult citizen (21 and over) to possess up to one ounce, and grow up to six plants. The law stands, but the precise details are still in a cloudy place.
The battle to legislate marijuana has been prevalent for years. The debate between necessity and luxury, recreation and medicine, and control versus abuse buzzes around like a pesky fly that can’t be killed. Everyone appears to have a different idea of what is legal and illegal, and what is moral and immoral.
Let’s take the case of Dr. Dallas Williams, 75, who was arrested in March of 2012 on charges of influencing a public servant. Williams had suggested that undercover officer Nick Sprague, complaining of foot pain, try medical marijuana to relieve the pain. Because of the illegality, and supposed immorality of the suggestion (it was considered an inappropriate assessment for a medical professional to make), Williams was charged with a felony and sentenced. Now, after all those unnecessary dollars
spent, marijuana is legal and treated much like alcohol.
The morality of doctor’s prescribing medical MJ is a different issue however. The fact that recreational marijuana is now legal in the state is what is causing law enforcement such trouble. Justin Smith calls the law “fuzzy” in the way that it is written, and says that a lot of the time, officers can’t touch it.
Where officers were once able to convict for pot, they now struggle with what is in the realm of the amendment and what is not. Smith says the black market is still alive, and the department is especially struggling with “out the back door” transactions via Craigslist and other social media sites, claiming that it’s virtually untraceable and they can do nothing about it. To pursue these dealings would be “a waste of time and resources.”
Smith’s main concern with the legality of marijuana is the youth culture. He claims that an increase in underage usage, like alcohol, is based on the mentality that “it’s legal now.” However, legality for children and adults is entirely different. Only individuals 21 and older are allowed to use recreational marijuana, but when underage individuals are caught with it, nothing much can be done except a slap on the wrists. The biggest problem has become DUIDs.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs is serious business. Law enforcement recognizes the necessity of keeping people safe on the roads above all else where RMJ is concerned. Smith states that there is still not enough research to know what an inappropriate level for intoxication is, and says that though officers are beginning to be trained to recognize THC intoxication, there is just not enough money and resources yet to have a good system for conviction. As it stands, a blood test of over five nanograms of THC will get you a DUID. But blood tests are pricey and it’s difficult to test for one specific thing when intoxication could be a combination of many, including alcohol.
In the future, Smith hopes that the police force will be able to adapt as it needs to. Though some law enforcement still struggle to break down years of anti-pot training, Smith insists that the department has to adapt to the law.
“There are a lot of laws we don’t like,” says Smith. “But it’s not in our realm to go against the law.”
Smith advocates education and DUID prevention, school campaigns to provide youth with the ability to make smart decisions, and enforcement as best as possible within the community. That’s fair. So long as the “drug” stays safe and in the right hands, much like alcohol, its legality should not be stigmatized.
“What we’re in is no different than the community,” states Smith. “We don’t know where things are going but we adjust to it.”
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