Denver Direct: This Just In…..Pot Goes to Trial
Thursday, April 24, 2008
As received:For Immediate Release
April 24, 2008
Mason Tvert, SAFER executive director, 720-255-4340
Brian Vicente, defense attorney, 720-280-4067
Legal Challenge of Post-Initiative Marijuana Enforcement Headed to Trial for First Time on Wednesday (4/30)
Initiative proponents call on City Attorney’s Office to drop case against 24-year-old college student who stands to lose his financial aid and establish policy to uphold the will of Denver voters
Defense files for initiative proponent Mason Tvert to serve as expert witness regarding Denver marijuana initiatives
DENVER — For the first time since voters called for an end to arrests for adult marijuana possession, a case challenging Denver’s continued marijuana enforcement will go to trial on Wednesday, April 30, at 8 a.m. The case of 24-year-old Timothy Arndt, a full-time Metro State College of Denver student who stands to lose his financial aid, will be heard by Judge James Breese and a six-person jury in Courtroom 117M in the Denver City and County Building.
Proponents of the successful marijuana initiatives in Denver are calling on the Denver City Attorney’s Office to drop the charges against Arndt, who was cited solely for private possession of a couple grams of marijuana (far less than one ounce) when police randomly stopped him in Capitol Hill in February. (Statement from Tim Arndt to the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel below.)
“The People of Denver have made it abundantly clear they do not want the city punishing adults for simply possessing a drug less harmful than alcohol,” said SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert, the lead proponent of the initiatives. “The City Attorney’s Office has prosecutorial discretion and could legally drop this case at any time without violating the state marijuana law. They have no excuse for taking this case all the way to trial — let alone using the city’s crime lab to identify a substance nobody disputes is marijuana — and they could establish a policy ending such practices today.”
Mr. Arndt’s legal counsel has filed a motion calling on Tvert to testify as an expert witness regarding the nature and intent of the successful 2005 and 2007 marijuana initiatives. Tvert is also a member of the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel, which has met twice since passage of Initiated Question 100 in 2007, designating private adult marijuana possession the lowest law enforcement priority for Denver police and prosecutors. At its last meeting, a representative from the City Attorney’s Office admitted the office has made no changes in how it handles such cases and is being directed not to do so by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey. At its next meeting on May 28, the panel will be voting on a recommendation that calls on the Denver City Attorney’s Office to no longer handle cases of private adult possession on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office.
“Mitch Morrissey has no right to circumvent Denver voters and tell our city attorneys how to do their jobs,” Tvert said. “We hope the Denver City Attorney’s Office will do the right thing and stop needlessly taking their cues from this state official.”
In Missoula, Mont., where a similar “lowest law enforcement priority” measure was adopted in 2006, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg adopted an official policy to uphold the initiative and stop prosecuting in cases of simple adult marijuana possession. Seattle also adopted a “lowest priority” initiative in 2003, and since then the city has seen arrests and prosecutions for marijuana possession drop dramatically.
WHAT: First jury trial regarding legal challenge of post-initiative marijuana enforcement
WHEN: Wednesday, April 30, trial set for 8 a.m.; Mr. Arndt, his attorney, and Mason Tvert will be available for comment after decision is rendered
WHERE: Courtroom 117M, Denver City and County Building, 1437 Bannock St.
WHO: Timothy Arndt, 24-year-old Metro State College of Denver student charged with private adult marijuana possession
Mason Tvert, SAFER executive director and proponent of 2005 and 2007 marijuana initiatives
Brian Vicente, Mr. Arndt’s attorney
Statement from Timothy Arndt to Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel –
Hello Members of the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel.
My name is Timothy Arndt, I am 24, and I reside in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver.
I currently work part-time at LGC Associates, a local staffing agency, and I am also a full-time student earning an undergraduate degree at Metro State College of Denver.
First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to consider my comments, as well as for the time you have dedicated to this panel and exploring this very important issue. I understand you are all very busy so I did what I could to keep the statement I prepared brief.
While I realize this issue may not be important to everyone, it is to me. That’s because last month I was arrested and cited solely for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in Denver, and now I stand to lose the financial aid that enables me to pursue my college degree.
I realize you may be thinking, why did you use marijuana if you knew it could get you into trouble? Well, I guess I just had a little more faith in the law and the democratic process than I should have.
When the petitions for these ballot initiatives came around, I signed them. And I was very happy when I saw that the action I had taken translated into our city taking such a progressive stance on marijuana
But on February 10th, despite the very clear message sent by voters not once, not twice, but three times, that they did not want the city’s police spending its time worrying about marijuana possession, I was arrested.
I was walking from my home in Capitol Hill to a friend’s home nearby. I had a small amount of marijuana on me – less than one-eighth of an ounce – and I purposefully did not drive because I knew I would be using marijuana that evening.
I was minding my own business when a police cruiser shined its spotlight on me and asked me to stop. Of course I did. Another cruiser arrived and the two officers asked if they could pat me down for weapons. Having none on me – and not thinking the marijuana was a big problem – I said sure.
The officers found the marijuana, and the next thing I knew, they were being MORE aggressive with me, patting me down hard in a way that I felt was inappropriate and made me very uncomfortable. I was handcuffed and placed in a police cruiser where I spent about 45 minutes with these two officers before they finally released me with a citation and a mandatory court appearance.
I had heard of other students at Metro who had been charged for marijuana and that they would have lost their financial aid if they simply pled guilty and paid their fines. Even worse, upon looking further into these laws, I learned that in Colorado (unlike some states), state-based aid is tied to federal aid, and I stood to lose it all.
So I decided I would not “just pay the fine” because, like them, I rely on financial aid to get my education and I am not going to lose it without a fight. Especially when the majority of the people in the city in which I live have made it clear they do not think I broke the law.
In fact, I understand the city has the right to stop issuing citations for marijuana possession and city prosecutors can drop these cases at any time. So I have to ask, why cite people or bring these charges to begin with? Why have two police officers who could be breaking up a fight outside a bar or responding to other real crimes spend 45 minutes of their time with me?
I heard the city dropped the marijuana possession charges against the other Metro students, and I hope they do so with me. It does not appear likely, though, as I am scheduled for a full jury trial on April 30th. When I was in court for my arraignment, I paid attention to who else was in there and for what. 20 for disturbing the peace. 9 for assault. 4 for vandalism. Others for threatening people, indecent exposure, flourishing a weapon, disorderly intoxication. And there were 11 – I repeat 11 – people there for simply possessing of less than one ounce of marijuana.
11 in that one court room on that one day. And each one stands to have a drug conviction on their record for the rest of their life. They might lose their jobs. They might not get jobs in the future. Me, I’m pretty sure I will still be able to get a job. It’s simply a matter of whether I am able to apply for those jobs that require a degree.
If the people of this city say they do not want the city spending its time and their tax dollars arresting and prosecuting me; and if the city can drop the charges against me at any time; why am I going to trial? Why are six of those people going to have to show up and sit in a jury box? And another behind the judge’s bench. And others behind the prosecutor’s table. And others doing the paperwork.
It doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to the majority of voters in Denver. And I expect it may not make sense to many of you. Thus, I urge this panel to take swift action to address this issue and put an end to these arrests and prosecutions as soon as possible. I realize this may not get me off the hook. But hopefully it will prevent other college students and Denver residents from having to come here and make a similar statement in the future.
Again, thank you all very much for your time and for your work with this panel. I sincerely wish it the best in accomplishing its goal.
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