Denver May Lower Fine for Marijuana Possession to $1

The Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel recommended today that the fine for marijuana possession be set at $1. If Denver’s presiding judge accepts the recommendation, the $1 fine would be the lowest fine for marijuana possession in the entire nation.

A letter from the Panel will be sent to Denver County Court Presiding Judge Mary Celeste, requesting that she lower the fine on the fine schedule to $1 to reflect the lowest law enforcement priority approved by the voters. * The entire letter to Judge Celeste is pasted below. *

“Upon reviewing the fine schedule, we have noted that a number of offenses carry a $50 fine — including urinating in public, park curfew, and open container violations — and others carry even lesser fines, such as disobeying a signal light ($40), light rail violations ($26), and spitting in public ($25),” the Panel wrote in the letter. “We are…requesting that you revise the schedule to reflect the lowest law enforcement priority approved by the voters.

“[W]e believe the court should reduce the fine to the absolute minimum allowable, or $1.”

The Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel was appointed by Mayor John Hickenlooper in December 2007, to implement a voter-approved ordinance designating adult marijuana possession the city’s “lowest law enforcement priority.” In May 2008, the Denver City Attorney’s Office announced the city would be changing its policy so that adults cited for marijuana possession will no longer be required to appear in Denver’s overcrowded municipal court and can instead pay their citations by mail, much like traffic tickets. Without consulting the Panel, the Denver City Attorney’s Office arbitrarily recommended a $50 fine for marijuana possession be added to the fine schedule on Denver’s citation forms.

“Denver voters have made it clear they do not want any adults cited for using a substance that is far safer than alcohol,” said panel member and SAFER Executive Director Mason Tvert, who coordinated the successful Denver marijuana initiatives. “If the city is able to arbitrarily lower the fine from $100 to $50, there should be no problem with lowering it to $1 so that it reflects the city law approved by the voters.”

“By setting the fine at just $1, we are sending a message to Denver officials that the era of citing adults for using a less harmful drug than alcohol is over. It’s simply not worth the city’s time or resources.”


Letter from Mayor John Hickenlooper’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel to Denver Presiding Judge Celeste

Honorable Mary Celeste
Presiding Judge
Denver County Court
1437 Bannock Street
Denver, CO 80202

Dear Judge Celeste:

In 2005, Denver voters amended the city ordinance prohibiting private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana (R.M.C. Art. 5, Div. 3, Sec. 38-175) so that individuals 21 and older would no longer face any penalties for such behavior. In 2007, a second citywide vote established a city ordinance mandating the city make private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and older Denver’s lowest law enforcement priority. It also established the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel, appointed by Mayor John W. Hickenlooper, to monitor and report on the prioritizing process and implement the “lowest priority” ordinance to the greatest extent possible.

As you know, private adult marijuana possession in Denver continues to be prosecuted under state law, and the maximum penalty for the Class 2 petty offense is a $100 fine. C.R.S. §18-48-406(1). In the past few months, the Denver City Attorney’s Office agreed to change city policy so that fines related to such citations can be paid by mail and will no longer mandate an appearance in Denver Municipal Court. The ability to pay fines by mail is dependent on the fine schedule printed on the citation, and citation printing will commence following a major data systems revision that is currently underway.

Once these administrative hurdles are overcome, individuals will be able to mail in their fines according to the fine schedule printed on the citation. The current fine schedule indicates that for possession of marijuana, less than one ounce, C.R.S. §18-18-406(1), the first offense assessment is $160. This number is derived from a $50 fine, a $100 drug surcharge, and a $10 “bureau fee.” Upon reviewing the fine schedule, we have noted that a number of offenses carry a $50 fine — including urinating in public, park curfew, and open container violations — and others carry even lesser fines, such as disobeying a signal light ($40), light rail violations ($26), and spitting in public ($25).

We understand one of your functions as Presiding Judge is to administer and periodically revise the fine schedule. We are, therefore, requesting that you revise the schedule to reflect the lowest law enforcement priority approved by the voters.

One alternative is to revise the scheduled so that the fine for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is no greater than any of the other listed fines ($25). Even better, we respectfully ask you to consider a fine of $1 due to the effect of the $100 drug offender surcharge, C.R.S. §18-19-103. The surcharge must be assessed at $100, unless the defendant can show by clear and convincing evidence that the he or she is unable to pay all, or a portion of, the surcharge. Since our appellate courts have held that the surcharge is “punishment”, People v. Stead, 845 P.2d 1156 (Colo. 1993), the real punishment inflicted on the defendant is the total of the fine and the surcharge. Therefore, under the current fine schedule, the total penalty for private possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is $160; and even if the fine is reduced to $25, it would still be $135. Since the surcharge is penal, we believe the court should reduce the fine to the absolute minimum allowable, or $1. That would still require an assessment of the fine, the $100 surcharge, and the $10 “bureau fee,” resulting in a total penalty of $111, which would still be among the largest on the fine schedule.

We look forward to discussing this issue with you further if you deem it appropriate.

Sincerely,
The Members of the Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel

Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel

Doug Linkhart, Denver City Council At-large

Lt. Ernie Martinez, Denver Police Dept., president of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association,

Vincent DiCroce, Director of Prosecution, Denver City Attorney’s Office,

Phil Cherner, defense attorney and member of the Denver Crime Commission

Joni Handran, substance abuse counselor, Empowerment Program

Frank Moya, Denver public defender

Sandy Mullins, executive director,Colorado Criminal Defense Bar

Dora-Lee Larson, Denver Domestic Violence Coordinating Council

Mason Tvert, executive director, SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation)

Brian Vicente, defense attorney and executive director of Sensible Colorado

– Article from Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER).

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