Pubdate: Sat, 8 Dec 2007
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2007 Rutland Herald
Author: Daniel Barlow, Vermont Press Bureau
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


MONTPELIER - Gov. James Douglas said Friday he does not see a 
contradiction in his handling of two major marijuana busts - one of 
which he criticized for alleged leniency and the other that he didn't.

This fall, when Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand, a 
Democrat, approved court diversion for a Windsor lawyer arrested with 
more than two pounds of pot and 32 growing plants, Douglas, a 
Republican, ordered state law enforcement to send all future 
marijuana cases from that county to state prosecutors.

But Douglas is poised to take no action after a Randolph man was 
given court diversion after police found him with 110 marijuana 
plants. That court decision was made by Orange County State's 
Attorney William Porter, a Republican.

Speaking on Vermont Public Radio Friday morning, Douglas said he 
directed marijuana cases in Windsor County to bypass Sand's office 
because of the prosecutor's alleged "blanket policy" to send 
first-time possession cases to diversion.

He added there are other differences between the two criminal cases, 
but when asked said he did not know the details of the Orange County 
case, in which three times as many marijuana plants were seized.

"We have a prosecutor who has had a blanket policy of deferring 
first-time marijuana offenses regardless of amount," Douglas said on 
the radio show.

In the Windsor County case, part-time family court judge Martha 
Davis, 61, was charged in early October after police found 2-1/2 
pounds of marijuana and 32 pot plants at her home. The following 
month, Davis was allowed to enter the court diversion program to 
resolve that complaint.

Meanwhile, 45-year-old North Johnson of Randolph was arrested in late 
August after police found 110 plants and drug paraphernalia at his 
home. That case, which was prosecuted in Orange County, was also sent 
to court diversion.

Earlier this week, Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said comparing the 
two marijuana cases was like comparing "apples and oranges." But 
Gibbs did not return several calls for further comment Friday.

Sand, when reached at his office in White River Junction Friday 
morning, scoffed at the idea the two cases were so different.

"My wife's response to that was that this is not apples to oranges, 
this is marijuana to marijuana," he said.

Sand, who advocates the decriminalization of marijuana and a review 
of state drug laws, strongly denied Douglas' assertion that he has a 
"blanket policy" regarding marijuana cases.

But as a "practical matter, there is a trend in the state to use the 
diversion program - a confidential court process under which criminal 
charges are dropped and the defendant may be ordered to undergo 
treatment or community service - for some drug cases," Sand explained.

When asked if he thinks Douglas is being hypocritical in his 
attitudes with the two cases, Sand said the governor's actions add 
confusion to the drug debate.

"I think I share some of the confusion Vermonters are feeling right 
now about marijuana cases," he said, after a short pause. "It is 
confusing that in one case diversion is apparently unacceptable, but 
in another case - which features more marijuana - diversion is acceptable."

The controversy highlights an apparent contradiction in Douglas' 
stance, which is highlighted by his quotes to the Vermont media when 
news of Sand's sentence broke in early November.

He told the Rutland Herald then that Sand's decision is a "bad 
message to send to our kids." Vermont Public Radio at the time 
paraphrased him as saying that Sand abused his discretion because of 
the quantity of marijuana involved.

"We can't have a situation in Vermont where in 13 other of our 
counties, possession is treated as the felony it is, and possibly 
result in jail time, and in another county someone gets a 'get out of 
jail free' card," he told the Herald at the time.

Sen. John Campbell, a Democrat from Windsor County, where Sand works, 
said Douglas' different views on two similar marijuana cases "smells 
of politics."

"This is patently offensive in light of the facts of these two 
cases," said Campbell, who is a possible Democratic candidate for 
governor next year. "The governor is really insulting the 
intelligence of Vermonters with this."

On the radio program Friday, Douglas denied the political parties of 
the prosecutors played a part in his decision.

"There is no political motivation," he said. "My motivation is public safety."

On Friday, Sand again stated the need for a statewide discussion on 
drug policy. He said it could be modeled after Sen. Richard Sears' 
recent roundtable discussions on domestic abuse, which led to the 
consideration of new legislation.

"All the parties involved need to get together to have a serious drug 
policy discussion," Sand said.

A drug policy discussion will be on the agenda for the new 
legislation session, Campbell said.

"The legislature will be looking at the policies and penalties of 
drug possession next year," he said.
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