Pubdate: Sun, 11 Nov 2007
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2007 Times Argus
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand has been trying for years
to stimulate a discussion about how we handle crimes involving drugs.
Gov. James Douglas now has obliged him.

Sand gained notice last week when he decided that a 61-year-old
Windsor lawyer and part-time family court judge would go to diversion
rather than face felony drug charges after authorities found two and a
half pounds of marijuana at her house.

Douglas responded to that decision by ordering state police to direct
all drug cases in Windsor County to the attorney general or to the
U.S. attorney instead of to Sand.

Sand decided diversion was right in the case of Martha Davis because
she was a first-time offender with no criminal record. There was no
evidence that she was trafficking in drugs or furnishing marijuana to
other people.

Diversion is designed to handle this sort of case in a constructive
manner, requiring offenders to accept responsibility by completing
community service and drug treatment, when appropriate. Douglas,
however, viewed Davis' offense as too serious for diversion. He has
been forward-thinking on drugs, promoting the development of more
treatment options and the increased use of drug courts. But he has
also been tough, bolstering enforcement efforts against the threat of
dangerous drugs.

The Davis case raises a number of questions. There may have been no
evidence that Davis was furnishing marijuana for others, but the
quantity seized by authorities suggests that she might have been. And
if she was furnishing marijuana to a half dozen friends, what do we
think of that?

Sand has become well known for advocating decriminalization of some
drugs and for his belief that society has been harmed more by our
reaction to marijuana than by the smoking of the plant itself.

It is a reality that marijuana is prevalent in society -- not as
prevalent as alcohol, but not exactly scarce. Ask any 16-year-old. In
fact, the latest survey of risky behavior by young people in Vermont
found that more than one-fifth of Vermonters from eighth to 12th grade
had smoked marijuana. Use of marijuana by young people in Vermont has
declined by about one-third in the past eight years, but Vermont
remains among the leaders, along with the other New England states and
Montana and Oregon, for marijuana use by young people.

We know that marijuana has its dangers. It can be abused, and it can
serve as a gateway to the use of more dangerous drugs. Public policy
that encourages its use or makes it more readily available ought to be
rejected. But drug policy that doesn't distinguish between small and
large dangers wastes the time and resources of public officials and
will end up throwing small-time marijuana users into jail next to
big-time heroin dealers.

That's why a range of responses to the variety of drug offenses is in
order and why diversion has a role to play. A 16-year-old found with a
six-pack of beer will frequently be sent to diversion. So would a
25-year-old with a small Baggie of marijuana.

A professional woman nearing retirement age with two and a half pounds
of marijuana challenges our willingness to be lenient because of doubt
about her intentions. But Sand was right in noting there was no reason
to believe Davis represented a danger to society, even if she might
have been endangering the clarity of her own thinking.

It is the purpose of diversion boards to require offenders to own up
to their behavior, which means the board in Windsor County is likely
to get the straight story on what Davis intended with all that
marijuana. And it is likely to get a promise, on penalty of criminal
prosecution, to steer clear of behavior that would be dangerous for
her or others. That is likely to be a better outcome than might be
achieved by criminal prosecution.

Douglas' vigilance with regard to the drug problem has been

He is likely to view Sand's interest in decriminalization with
misgivings, and so he probably saw a chance to make a point about the
need to stay tough on drugs. But there is also a need, as Sand has
said, not to let drugs make us "crazy," by which he means allowing
them to distort our public policy to such an extent that justice and
the social good take a back seat to our ardor in saying no to drugs.
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