Pubdate: 4 August 1999
Source: Capital Times, The  (WI)
Copyright: 1999 The Capital Times
Note: The weekly Isthmus newspaper published a cover story, "The War
On Pot - Part One"
the first part of a two part story last week exposing how local
authorities were cracking down on marijuana users, despite a local
tradition of decriminalization. There was also a column: THE POT


More than 20 years ago, the people of Madison made clear their
sentiments regarding prosecution of their friends and neighbors who
get caught with small amounts of marijuana.

The signal -- sent in a pair of referendum votes endorsing
decriminalization of marijuana and in support of a Madison City
Council move to set a cursory $5 fine for possession of the substance
- -- was that these cases should be the lowest of prosecutorial
priorities. And no development over the ensuing years has suggested
that the citizens of this region want any change in that standard.

Yet a shift has occurred -- a dramatic, dangerous and draconian shift
that ought to be reversed.

In recent years, the Dane County District Attorney's Office has
adopted an aggressive stance toward marijuana possession. During the
three-year period from 1996 through 1998, Dane County prosecutors
filed criminal charges for marijuana possession against more than
1,900 adults. That compares with only 245 such charges filed during
the three-year period from 1986 through 1988.

These prosecutions cost individuals and their families thousands of
dollars, attach criminal records to otherwise law-abiding citizens,
and divert prosecutorial time and energy from more serious matters. In
an interview with Isthmus, the weekly newspaper that is running a
two-part series on the disturbing policies of the District Attorney's
Office regarding marijuana possession cases, local defense attorney
Charles Giesen explained, "They're prosecuting way too vigorously. Way
too many resources are spent on these cases.''

Giesen has a point.

And Dane County District Attorney Diane Nicks knows it. Or at least
she did when she was campaigning for DA last year.

Nicks won a close race for her job in November at least in part by
staking out common-sense turf on the issue of marijuana prosecutions,
which had been brought into focus by Libertarian candidate Peter
Steinberg. Though Nicks did not endorse Steinberg's proposal for a
moratorium on marijuana prosecutions, she did clearly indicate that
she wanted the office to focus on more serious crimes.

The debate during last year's campaign came in the context of a
pattern of increased prosecutions that dated back to the tenure of
former District Attorney Bill Foust. Nicks seemed throughout the
campaign to be indicating that it was her intent to restore Dane
County's tradition of making prosecutions for marijuana possession an
extremely low priority.

Less than a year after her election, however, Nicks' common-sense
promises seem to have gone up in smoke. At a time when the DA's office
should be prosecuting corporations that injure workers and consumers,
going after campaign finance law violators, and putting real criminals
in jail, tax dollars and lives are being wasted on a fool's mission
that sensible Madisonians thought they had ended more than two decades

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