So, unless the one true church, or the legislature or other morality watchdogs are successful in shoving a stick in the spokes of the movement (favored by 2/3 of Utahns), maybe we’ll get to vote on medical marijuana this fall.
Anyone who would deny medical marijuana to a suffering person who needs or could benefit from it is cruel and uninformed – period.
This screed is about something else. It’s about our cruel and ridiculous laws, enforcement and punishment of people who get caught with marijuana in our pretty great state.
It is legal to possess and use marijuana in at least 23 states, including Colorado, Nevada, California and Oregon. What is Utah known for? National Parks, unlimited opportunity for outdoor recreation, tourism, etc. Many of the people who come to Utah for these reasons come from a place where marijuana use is legal, so it is not at all surprising that they bring along some herb to “elevate” their experience. Isn’t that our state motto?
Unfortunately, we have developed a cottage industry in Grand and San Juan counties to arrest, criminalize and excessively hammer these otherwise good people. I do a little criminal law in Grand and San Juan counties, and the amount of prosecution and persecution of these folks for simply having marijuana is staggering.
What happens: You come to Moab for a little vacation to have fun. Maybe you have a Colorado plate. You get stopped for a license plate light out, or failure to signal, or 41 mph in a 35 zone, or some other minor infraction that the cops see hundreds of times a day. Ah, but the odor of marijuana is detected. (These officers are truly blood hounds. They have better noses than my black lab/coon hound mix – and that’s saying something!) So your fun trip gets interrupted by being stopped, having your vehicle and luggage rummaged through, being humiliated in the middle of the road doing the “clown dance” (field sobriety tests), arrested, sent to jail, car impounded, and on and on.
Now comes the expense: bail or bond to get out of jail, attorney fees, impound fees if you are from out of state, travel expenses for court. Likely, your driver’s license is revoked or suspended. Since you need that for work, ferrying kids and the basic necessities of life, that places impossible burdens on your everyday life. Many lose their job. You end up with a criminal record, which has far-reaching negative implications on your future prospects. Desperate, you drive anyway, which opens up a whole different universe of criminal charges and penalties. It soon becomes a never-ending spiral of payments to the court, and potential for more trouble as you must live beneath the Sword of Damacles.
Be aware: simple possession of a flake of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $680. They charge you separately for your pipe or rolling papers: another $680. If you have THC oil or edibles or any of the many dispensary products out there, that makes it, for reasons unknown and unfathomable, a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of around $2,000.
This is, in a word, insane. Especially, when you compare marijuana use with alcohol. Booze is 10 times more prevalent and 10 times worse. As opposed to alcohol, people do not tend to commit other crimes after using marijuana, nor do they become crazy or violent.
This is a call for Grand County to lead the way in reforming how minor possession of marijuana is enforced. We have a new district court judge and will soon have a new Grand County attorney. Change is coming. It is inevitable. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of people reading this have either used marijuana or know people who do. Let’s get out in front of it.
Moving forward, if caught for simple possession, you get a ticket like a traffic violation – a Class C misdemeanor or infraction, and a small fine ($100-200). They give you the ticket, confiscate the evil weed, and send you on your way. No arrest, no jail, no court. You can satisfy that obligation by simply mailing in the fine. Simple, fair and humane. (I am less confident that this plan would go over in San Juan County, but they’ll get there sooner or later.)
Finally, a word of advice for you gentle sinners out there. Smoke, eat or otherwise ingest your pot at home, and once you have, stay there. Do not use marijuana in your vehicle. As you can appreciate from the above, it’s just not worth the risk. If you are traveling with some, be straight and super cautious while driving, and make sure your stash is tightly sealed and securely stored. If an officer blood hound claims to be able to detect the odor of marijuana and you know that is not true, do not consent to a search.
Until the inevitable changes come, be careful out there. Advocate for change whenever and wherever you can.