Pubdate: Sat, 11 Nov 2006
Source: Northwest Arkansas Times (Fayetteville, AR)
Copyright: 2006 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Cited: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A group that persuaded Eureka Springs voters to pass a pro-marijuana
initiative plans to continue its efforts by proposing a similar
ordinance in at least one other town, a spokesman said.

The ordinance, which passed in Tuesday's general election, makes
arrests and prosecution of adults for misdemeanor marijuana possession
of an ounce or less and paraphernalia possession, a low
law-enforcement priority.

In September, Fayetteville NORML collected 156 petition signatures in
Eureka Springs, a dozen more than needed to put the question to voters.

"For the first time in Arkansas history, citizens have had an
opportunity to voice their opinion on America's failed marijuana
laws," said Ryan Denham the group's campaign director for the initiative.

"Eureka Springs citizens would rather police focus on violent crimes
and property crimes, and not spend their limited resources targeting,
arresting and prosecuting minor marijuana offenders," he said.

The group, part of the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws, now will turn to its efforts to getting a similar
initiative passed in Fayetteville in 2008, Denham said.

The group also is considering a push for legislation in Arkansas that
would decriminalize marijuana infractions so they no longer constitute
a felony or misdemeanor offense, but would be more akin to a traffic
violation, Denham said.

"There's been some interest shown," he said.

He's hopeful, he said, because of the new faces that will be in the
next General Assembly.

Jerry Cox, executive director of the conservative Family Council and
its lobbying arm, the Family Council Action Committee, said his team
would be ready.

"We would certainly oppose it," Cox said Friday.

The Family Council already has spoken out against legalizing marijuana
for medical purposes in Arkansas, he said.

"The measure in Eureka Springs, I believe, sends the wrong message to
our young people that somehow using illegal drugs is OK," he said. "In
Arkansas, I believe most parents believe the use of illegal drugs,
especially by their children, always is wrong."

The ordinance's message, Denham said, is that while people "should not
use marijuana," they also should not lose education or job
opportunities because of its use.

Eureka Springs Police Earl Hyatt reiterated that the enforcement
priorities of the police force won't change.

The initiative purports to grant officers discretion that, in fact,
they already have in cases of marijuana possession, a Class A
misdemeanor, he said, and it contradicts part of Arkansas law's
requirements for the offense.

With such misdemeanors, the arresting officer has a choice of making
an arrest or releasing the person on a citation to appear in court, he
said. State law requires the suspect be fingerprinted before being
locked up or released.

"If an officer finds someone with a small amount of marijuana, they
have always had the choice of pouring it on the ground and rubbing it
in the dirt or charging the person -- and that is not going to
change," Hyatt said Friday.

"This has always been a moot point, but they wanted it on there and
they got it. It's their democratic right," he said.

Denham agreed that state law trumps parts of the initiative. But the
point is, federal and state law enforcement agencies do, in fact, set
enforcement priorities and city mayors can set agendas, particularly
those that "follow the will of the people," he said.

Cox said the Northwest Arkansas town is known for taking "a more West
Coast type philosophy toward use of illegal drugs."

"Eureka Springs may be the only city in Arkansas where a measure like
this would receive any significant support among the local citizens,"
he said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake