Pubdate: Wed, 12 Dec 2007
Source: Burlington Free Press (VT)
Copyright: 2007 Burlington Free Press
Author: Terri Hallenbeck, Free Press Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


Gov. Jim Douglas on Tuesday lifted the order he gave last month for 
state law enforcement agencies to refer significant first-time 
marijuana cases away from Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand.

Douglas announced that he's satisfied Sand will not treat all such 
cases by sending them to court diversion, as he did with a recent 
felony marijuana case. The truce came after an e-mail exchange 
Tuesday between Sand and Susanne Young, the governor's legal counsel, 
in which Sand clarified that he doesn't have a blanket policy for 
handling cases.

"I hope to make clear that my office does not have a policy and 
certainly not a blanket policy about diversion in marijuana cases, 
and I intend to apologize if anything I have said has contributed to 
that perception and misperception," Sand wrote in the e-mail.

Asked whether the whole thing was a misunderstanding, Douglas 
spokesman Jason Gibbs said, "It may have been."

Sand said he's never had blanket policies for any kinds of cases, and 
that the notion that he did "morphed" out of a television news report 
that does not include direct audio from Sand. While Sand was busy 
preparing for a murder trial, the notion gathered steam, he said. 
Sand said he attempted to meet with Douglas to explain that but was 
turned down. Sand said this week that he pulled 20 first-time 
marijuana cases from his files that did not go to court diversion.

Douglas issued an order Nov. 7 that all state law enforcement 
agencies refer significant first-time marijuana cases to the state 
Attorney General's Office or the U.S. Attorney's Office for review. 
The move came after Sand had referred a felony marijuana case against 
lawyer and part-time Family Court Judge Martha Davis to court 
diversion. Sand has publicly advocated for decriminalizing marijuana.

Gibbs said Douglas believes Sand had a blanket policy of diverting 
marijuana cases, citing the news report as evidence.

Douglas has been criticized for not having the same reaction to a 
recent Orange County case that was referred to court diversion. Gibbs 
said Douglas views that case differently because he did not believe 
the prosecutor had a blanket policy, was not a vocal advocate for 
legalizing marijuana and the defendant was not a judge.

In a statement, Douglas said by sending Davis through court 
diversion, Sand "sends a message that those entrusted to uphold laws 
only get a slap on the wrist when they violate them."

In the time since Douglas issued the order, no cases apparently 
surfaced that would have been referred away from Sand. Sand said only 
a couple of cases a year would likely have qualified.

Sand said he plans to continue advocating for a discussion of the 
state's drug laws. He said he provided Douglas with a list of five 
goals for more discussion of drug policy:

Drug courts in every Vermont county.

A "tiered response" to marijuana from a ticket to a felony.

Strengthening driving-while-intoxicated laws to target drugged drivers.

A resolution calling on Congress to give states broader latitude in 
shaping drug policy.

A bipartisan commission to look at how resources are used to combat drug use.

"I feel like we've been doing business the same way for 30 years, and 
I'm not sure we're making the progress we should be or could be 
making," Sand said. "I don't think we're making headway in reducing 
drug use and drug crime. If we're not getting ahead on those issues, 
we owe it to everybody ... to see whether there might be a better way 
to do business."

Douglas, in his statement, said he supports a discussion about how to 
improve the state's drug laws. "Our focus needs to be on preventing 
substance abuse before it begins," Douglas said.
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