Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pot initiatives pose ?serious problems?

Hailey City Council delays action on voter-approved reforms

Express Staff Writer

Hailey Councilwoman Carol Brown may have to resign her position because of potential conflicts of interest over three controversial voter-approved marijuana reform initiatives. Brown, a U.S. Forest Service employee, said she is prohibited by federal ethics rules from lobbying or advocating reform of marijuana laws as required by the initiatives. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Hailey City Council has tabled further action on three controversial voter-approved marijuana-reform initiatives until it sees what the Idaho Attorney General's Office has to say about the issue.

"I know that the Attorney General's Office is reviewing this matter," City Attorney Ned Williamson told council members Monday night. Williamson said he didn't know what action Attorney General Lawrence Wasden might take, but speculated that he "may raise objections to the matter."

Bob Cooper, spokesman for the attorney general, confirmed on Tuesday that the Attorney General's Office is looking into the issue.

"We have received a request from the city attorney and we are reviewing the material," Cooper said.

The vote to table the issue was 3-0. Mayor Susan McBryant was absent and Councilwoman Carol Brown recused herself from the discussion, fearing a potential conflict with restrictions of her employment with the U.S. Forest Service.

Hailey voters approved three marijuana reform initiatives on Nov. 6. One would legalize medical use of marijuana, a second would legalize industrial use of hemp and the third would make enforcement of marijuana laws the city's lowest police priority.

The council vote followed a presentation by Williamson in which he pointed out potential legal problems with implementing the initiatives, saying they conflict with both state and federal law and have several other provisions of questionable legality. For instance, he said, provisions of the initiatives that require city officials to lobby for reform of marijuana laws may violate First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and political expression.

The marijuana-advocacy provisions are also cause a dilemma for Brown, who said she may have to resign from the council because of ethics rules she is required to follow as a federal employee, under which she is prohibited from lobbying government entities. For the time being, Brown said, she cannot participate in the discussions or even be present when the issue is discussed.

Williamson also pointed out that local government entities do not have the right to pass laws contrary to state law. Furthermore, he said, the "lowest police priority" initiative puts Hailey police in a sticky position, saying they may not be allowed to be deputized for federal law enforcement reasons and may lose out on grant money to enforce drug laws.

"I believe the initiatives do pose some real serious problems," he said

Williamson said the council has four options. It can implement the initiatives, amend them, repeal them or pursue litigation.

Williamson recommended the latter.

"The judiciary can review initiatives for legality," he said. "This is why I think we need to have this litigated. I don't make that recommendation lightly, but the laws as proposed do raise some serious issues."

Councilman Don Keirn said implementation of the initiatives could cause council members to violate their oaths of office, wherein they pledged to uphold federal and state laws.

Councilwoman Martha Burke said she thinks Hailey voters were uniformed on the issues and approved the initiatives without realizing all the ramifications.

Regardless, Council President Rick Davis said he is reticent to repeal the initiatives because it would be "contrary to the voters."

"It is what it is and we have to deal with it," Davis said.

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