Routt County's district attorney won't drop petty pot cases

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Brett Barkey

— Despite imminent changes to the state’s marijuana laws, 14th Judicial District Attorney Brett Barkey said Thursday he has no plans to dismiss petty pot cases currently being prosecuted in the courts.

“We’re going to continue to process any of the cases that we have in the pipeline,” said Barkey, whose jurisdiction includes Routt, Moffat and Grand counties.

Barkey, who came out against Amendment 64 before the election, said there are only a handful of petty marijuana charges pending in each of the county courts in the 14th Judicial District. He made the decision to continue pursuing charges after speaking with senior staff members and law enforcement officials in the district.

“Certainly it’s still illegal,” Barkey said. “We have an obligation to enforce the law as it is.”

In the wake of the passage of Amendment 64 by Colorado voters last week, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett announced Wednesday that his office was dropping pending petty offense marijuana cases. He became the first district attorney in Colorado to take such action. Garnett isn't the only DA to make that decision.

On Thursday afternoon, Denver's district attorney said his office won't pursue charges against adults 21 and older who possess less than an ounce of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia. Existing cases involving petty marijuana offenses will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Prosecutors in the 17th Judicial District, which includes Broomfield and Adams counties, also will review pending cases on a case-by-case basis, according to the Denver Post.

Barkey, however, isn't alone in his stance. Weld County DA Ken Buck said in a statement Thursday that his office "has an obligation to prosecute offenses that were crimes at the time they occurred."

"Accordingly, we will not be dismissing existing marijuana possession cases. But more importantly, our office prosecutes low-level possession cases to get drug users help with their addictions. That practice will continue until state law changes," Buck said in a news release.

Like Barkey, Buck was an outspoken opponent of Amendment 64.

Once Amendment 64 becomes law — presumably by January — people 21 and older will be allowed to possess marijuana paraphernalia and as much as 1 ounce of marijuana. They'll also be able to grow as many as six plants.

In Routt County, 63 percent of voters were for the amendment. In Denver and Boulder, 66 percent of voters were supportive of the measure. Statewide, the measure passed with about 55 percent of the vote.

Until the law becomes official, Barkey said he would leave it up to local law enforcement agencies to decide whether they want to continue issuing tickets for petty marijuana infractions.

“There is some difference between each of them with how they’re going to approach new tickets, but that’s totally up to them,” Barkey said.

Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae and Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins say their departments are no longer issuing tickets for petty marijuana offenses.

“We should and need to follow the spirit of the law,” Rae said Thursday. “The spirit of the law was spoken by the people of Colorado on Nov. 6.”

Rae emphasized that his officers will continue to enforce laws not changed by Amendment 64, such as those that prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana, distribution of marijuana and consuming marijuana in public.

Voters in the state of Washington also voted to legalize possession of marijuana Nov. 6, though residents there will not be allowed to grow it. The Associated Press reported that at least three district attorneys in Washington have announced they will drop pending cases that would not be crimes under the new law. King County, where Seattle is located, on Friday announced it would be dropping 175 cases.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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