Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hailey pot smokers can relax at home

Lowest police priority ranks private use below jay-walking

Express Staff Writer

A Hailey police officer patrols the city. Under a new city ordinance, Hailey officers will consider some marijuana-related offenses to be their lowest priority for enforcement. Photo by Mountain Express

Hailey police officers won't be trying to bust anyone for smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home from now on—not since the City Council adopted three weeks ago a lowest-police-priority ordinance with regard to misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

Passage of the new ordinance comes too late for David Marks, who was arrested in August 2009 when Hailey police officers smelled marijuana when Marks opened his front door for them. The cops were looking for someone else, but entered the house and searched it when they reportedly smelled pot smoke.

Felony charges against Marks for possession of more than 3 ounces of marijuana were later dismissed as part of a plea agreement, under which Marks agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Marks, who police records report had more than 6 ounces of marijuana in his possession, was sentenced to six months unsupervised probation. He was ordered to pay a fine, restitution and court costs totaling $587.50, to perform 100 hours of community service and to undergo drug counseling.

Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter said this week that under the new ordinance, Hailey cops would not have entered Marks' residence in search of contraband.

"We would have just walked away," Gunter said. "We have to retrain officers on how we do things. Pretty much anything else we do now ranks as higher priority. Marijuana on private property ranks below crosswalk violations, traffic infractions, theft."

"This is the first time an Idaho town has taken such a move to decriminalize marijuana offenses," said Ryan Davidson, the Garden City man who got four marijuana legalization initiatives on the Hailey ballot three years ago.

Three of the initiatives were passed by voters twice. They proposed allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, legalizing industrial hemp and making enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority for Hailey police.

Portions of all three ordinances were redacted by 5th District Judge Robert Elgee, but a marijuana oversight committee was formed and charged with gathering information and making recommendations to the City Council on how the city should handle issues regarding marijuana policy.

In February, the committee decided to pursue a revival of the lowest-police-priority ordinance by asking Mayor Rick Davis to adopt it in some form. The mayor complied, after taking comments from Gunter.

"This is significant because any government action that goes against existing marijuana laws is unusual and represents a sea change in thought," Davidson said.

Seattle, Denver and Missoula County in Montana have similar lowest-police-priority laws, enforced by committees like the one in Hailey.

The Hailey Marijuana Oversight Committee members are Peter Lobb (president), Tom Hickey, Steve England, Joanie Allen and Frank Halverson.

They will meet later this month and make a formal statement in response to the new ordinance.

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