Pubdate: Wed, 12 Dec 2007
Source: Times Argus (Barre, VT)
Copyright: 2007 Times Argus
Author: Daniel Barlow, Vermont Press Bureau
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Gov. James Douglas on Tuesday rescinded his policy of bypassing
Windsor County State Attorney Robert Sand's office for the prosecution
of major marijuana possession cases.

Douglas said Tuesday afternoon he was "heartened" to hear this week
that Sand, who supports the decriminalization of marijuana, does not
have a "blanket policy" to send possession cases to the court
diversion program.

Coupled with Sand's recent meeting with Windsor County law enforcement
to discuss his views on drug cases, Douglas said he was satisfied the
prosecutor does not have a "one size fits all" policy.

"My office received an e-mail from Mr. Sand today apologizing for the
confusion over his policy or lack of policy and stating that he
approaches each case on its own merit," Douglas said in a phone
interview Tuesday evening. "That's all I can ask of a

Douglas last month ordered Vermont State Police and other law
enforcement officials in Windsor County to send all felony marijuana
cases to the attorney general's office after Sand ordered court
diversion for a local attorney after police found 32 marijuana plants
at her home.

The governor's change of heart comes less than a week after news broke
that Orange County State's Attorney William Porter authorized court
diversion for a Randolph man arrested with 110 marijuana plants at his
home. Douglas said that case did not play a role in his policy change.

Nevertheless, the issue has played out with considerable support for
Sand's views, and for his determination in airing the issue of how
drug use in society should be handled by the justice system. Sand is
seeing strong support from attorneys in Washington County, says Kim
Cheney of Middlesex, a Montpelier lawyer who formerly served as
Vermont attorney general and as a state's attorney. Cheney said he has
about 50 attorneys across the county signing onto and helping fund a
newspaper advertisement in support of Sand.

Cheney said he also struggled with drug policy as a prosecutor during
the 1960s, when the country "first discovered this so-called problem."
He added that politicians seem to misjudge the public's desire to see
discourse on the future of drug laws.

"I really respect and admire Bobby Sand for taking this issue to the
public," Cheney said. "It's long overdue and it seems like most
elected officials don't have the courage to do it."

Reached at his office in White River Junction Tuesday, Sand said he
was happy the controversy between his office and the governor's office
was over. He said he contacted the governor's office this week to
explain that he does not have a policy regarding marijuana cases.

"There is not a blanket policy, there never has been a blanket policy
and there never will be a blanket policy," said Sand, who noted that
his office prosecuted 20 first-offense marijuana cases this year that
did not go to diversion.

Confusion over Sand's stance on marijuana possession cases seems to
stem from a WCAX report in November. That allegation was repeated
later by other news outlets and soon morphed into him having a
"blanket policy," said Sand, who added that his focus at the time of
the initial news reports was an upcoming murder trial.

"The assertion that I had a blanket policy was what was repeated by
people and it seemed to take on a life of its own," Sand said.

In his letter to Douglas, who cited the WCAX report for his accusation
that the Windsor County prosecutor had a blanket policy during a
Vermont Public Radio interview last week, Sand wrote that he
apologizes if "anything I have said has contributed to that perception
or misperception."

WCAX News Director Marcelis Parsons said Tuesday that the station is
standing by its reporting. The station could not get Sand on camera
when the story broke on Nov. 5, Parsons said, but instead quoted from
a phone conversation that Sand had with one of the station's reporters.

That quote -- "   all first-time marijuana offenders are offered
diversion if they have no prior record and I am satisfied the
marijuana was only for personal use" -- did not include the word
"blanket policy."

Days later the station began referring to Sand's "policy" in recaps
and updates on the story. Parsons said Sand never asked the station
for a correction of clarification.

"We have only used the phrase blanket policy once and the first time
was last night," Parsons said, referring to the station's latest
report on the back-and-forth between Douglas and Sand.

Now that the controversy is over, Sand said he hopes lawmakers and
elected officials in Montpelier get serious about debating drug policy.

He said he proposed five points of "common ground" to the governor,
such as establishing drug courts in all the counties, calling on the
U.S. Congress to give the states more authority over drug laws and
establishing a bi-partisan commission to "look at resource allocation
in combating drug abuse and crime and to consider whether some
alternative approaches might enhance public safety."

Douglas said he had not yet reviewed those recommendations and
declined to discuss specifics. He added that he is open to having
dialogue on drug policy, but that he draws the line at suggestions
that some drugs should be decriminalized.

"I oppose legalizing illegal drugs," said the governor, who added that
the common ground that both sides could meet at is an opposition to
the growing problem of illegal drug use in Vermont.

The month-long run-around of Sand's office on major marijuana arrests
may not have actually resulted in any cases heading to state and
federal prosecutors.

Commissioner of Public Safety Kerry Sleeper said Tuesday that as far
as he knows no large scale marijuana case has been uncovered by
Vermont State Police in that county since the governor's directive.
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