Marijuana debate continues

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is standing by his order that major marijuana cases should be taken to the attorney general, not the Windsor County prosecutor.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Douglas gave the order after Windsor County prosecutor Robert Sand offered court diversion to a lawyer found with two and a half pounds of pot.

The l3 Windsor County Democrats and Progressives who signed the letter say Sand was elected by the voters to make such decisions.

Douglas responded:

(Douglas) "So was I. And I have a responsibility to speak out where I feel that the law was not applied fairly.”

(Keese) But Windsor Senator John Campbell, one of the letter’s signers, says the governor has overstepped his bounds.

(Campbell) "It’s very similar to Alberto Gonzales. Obviously he was listening to whatever the administration said. I mean the prosecutor needs to focus on the ends of justice, rather than the demands of a chief executive.”

(Keese) Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Douglas said Sand abused his discretion in this case because he says the quantity of marijuana was too large for such a lenient sentence.

The governor stopped short of saying how much is too much. And he wouldn’t say whether he would veto a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession. One is expected to come up in the legislature next year.

(Douglas) "I’m willing to have a discussion about what the appropriate penalty is. But my point is that’s a discussion for the legislature, not for an individual prosecutor or anyone else to pursue on his own.”

(Keese) Attorney General Bill Sorrell says diversion is commonly used for first offenses in marijuana cases.

(Sorrell) "The reality is that small amounts of marijuana possession (has) essentially been decriminalized already by police on the beat – or if not by the police on the beat, then by the state’s attorneys when the cases come in. I mean we can’t be prosecuting everybody.”

(Keese) Sorrell says prosecutors commonly send first offense- marijuana cases to diversion. He says the program helps unclog the courts. It also makes sure offenders think about their crimes before their records are cleared.

But he disagrees with any blanket policy that would cover all first offenses without regard to quantity. He says it’s time Vermont addressed the issue.

(Sorrell) "There should be a public policy discussion. It should be in the state house”.

(Keese) But he says unless or until the law is changed, it should be enforced as it’s currently written.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.


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