Pubdate: Thu, 08 Nov 2007
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2007 Times Argus
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand may catch some heat for
sending a Windsor lawyer and part-time judge to court diversion rather
than facing a felony marijuana charge. But the case is a good example
of the useful and constructive purposes that diversion programs serve.

Martha Davis is a 61-year-old lawyer who sometimes serves as an acting
judge in Windsor County Family Court. Her entanglement with the law
began when she notified the Fish and Wildlife office that there was a
dead deer on her property. Fish and Wildlife personnel found deer
guts, but not the deer, and they found something else - marijuana
growing on Davis's property. Subsequently, authorities found 32
marijuana plants inside her house.

Diversion is a program that allows offenders in some cases to avoid
the legal process and the corrections system and to keep their records
free of a criminal conviction. Offenders are not allowed off the hook.
They must sit down with a board of community members, and they must
own up to their offenses. They must pay restitution for damages, and
they must perform community service.

Most first-time drug offenders end up in a diversion program. Parents
of teenagers who have been caught with beer may be familiar with
diversion. The crimes are not always victimless, which is why
restitution is sometimes required. But often they involve alcohol or
marijuana, and sometimes offenders must complete alcohol or drug
counseling to fulfill their diversion obligations. If offenders fail
to live up to their side of the bargain, they are still subject to
criminal prosecution.

Successful completion of a diversion program makes winners of
everyone. Court calendars are relieved of numerous cases, and jails
are not crowded with nonviolent offenders. That's one way the state
wins. Offenders win because they avoid legal proceedings and a
conviction. Both state and offender win because offenders must take
responsibility for their actions and must pay by means of community

Sand is well-known as an advocate for decriminalization of drug
offenses. Here is a case that shows the logic of his position. No one
would be served by throwing Martha Davis into jail, should she be
convicted. There was no evidence that she was selling marijuana. Sand
acknowledged that she had a significant amount in her possession. If
that was a sign of abuse, then the diversion program is meant to
provide the assistance she would need to address her problem.

Throughout the nation jails are bursting with people who have done
little more than what Davis is alleged to have done, and it doesn't
make sense. Those who demand a tough punitive approach to any and
every drug offense have created a system where penalties are out of
proportion to offenses. And then they toast their success by putting
on a buzz from a celebratory glass of wine.

No one wants to see the state's drug problem get worse, but addressing
the drug problem sensibly requires a focus on actual dangers. A
61-year-old with marijuana at her house may be endangering her own
clear-headedness, just as a 31-year-old who downs too many brews. Law
enforcement needs to devote its anti-drug efforts at real threats and
let diversion teach the likes of Martha Davis her lesson.
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