Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Should cities legalize marijuana?

Bellevue-based group aims to put pot initiative before local voters

Express Staff Writer

A Bellevue-based organization called The Liberty Lobby of Idaho is seeking to have the cities of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley adopt ordinances that would effectively legalize the sale and use of marijuana in the three cities.

Ryan Davidson, chairman of the group, on Aug. 25 filed with the three cities an initiative petition that demands the respective city councils put before voters a new ordinance that would, among other things, direct the cities to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana for use by adults.

?All we really want to do is let the voters speak on this,? Davidson said.

Robert Blakeley, chief petitioner for The Liberty Lobby of Idaho, said the initiative has been put forth in part to stop the flow of marijuana to children and adolescents.

?Drug dealers don?t care who they sell to,? he said.

The ordinance proposed in the petitions calls upon the cities to:

 Tax and regulate the sale of marijuana, with an intent to keep the substance away from children and to generate revenues for the city.

 Direct their police departments ?to make investigation, citation and arrest for private cannabis offenses the lowest law-enforcement priority.?

 Issue a declaration ?to advocate changes in Idaho state law, county ordinance, or any other applicable laws to authorize the taxation and regulation of can-nabis and eliminate criminal penalties for private, adult cannabis use.?

The filings made by Davidson are technically preliminary filings legally required to initiate the petition drives. The preliminary filing must include the language for the proposed ordinance and must be supported by the signatures of a set number of resident voters.

Typically, after a preliminary filing is issued, the city clerk is asked to certify that the signatures are valid and the initiative is substantively complete.

If the clerk gives approval for the initiative to proceed, the petitioners will then be given a deadline in which to submit additional signatures, with the number varying by city. In Ketchum, the petitioners would be required to submit 128 signatures to support the petition, 20 percent of the number who partici-pated in the last city election.

Davidson and Blakeley said they were notified this week by Sun Valley City Attorney Rand Peebles that he has recommended to City Clerk Janis Wright that she not certify the initiative petition and allow it to proceed.

Peebles could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst has been reviewing the proposed ordinance but has not yet rendered a recommendation to Ketchum City Clerk Sandy Cady.

Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson said Tuesday that he expected to issue a recommendation to Hailey City Clerk Heather Dawson by the end of the day.

Williamson said he could not elaborate on the details of his recommendation but did state unequivocally that the proposed ordinance presents a policy that is in direct conflict with existing laws.

?We have state and federal laws that prohibit the possession, use, sale, manufacturing and distribution of marijuana,? Williamson said. ?Clearly, there is a conflict of law.?

He added: ?I would not endorse this ordinance as drafted, at all, because it does conflict with state law ? It is patently unconstitutional.?

Davidson, who said he is not and never has been a marijuana user, holds that the initiative petitions meet the legal requirements and should be advanced. He wants the ordinances to be put before voters in the Nov. 2 election.

Davidson, 27, and Blakeley, 29, moved to Bellevue from Boise approximately one month ago to set up a new headquarters for The Liberty Lobby of Idaho. They believe Blaine County is probably the most likely venue in the state to get their initiatives passed.

Davidson said The Liberty Lobby campaign in Blaine County ?is the first leg? of a larger campaign across the state. The effort, he said, is being funded by a grant from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which is behind similar initiatives in other states.

Davidson?s three initiatives in the Wood River Valley assert that the new ordinance should be put before voters largely because existing marijuana laws foster crime, unnecessarily cost taxpayers millions of dollars, impose on civil liberties and impede the use of hemp for constructive purposes.

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