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(USA) Pro-pot group pushes $5 fine

LONGMONT — The state decriminalized the possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana eight years ago, but Longmont city code still calls for a fine and possible jail time for people who get caught with weed.

That’s one reason those behind a new group, Free Marijuana in Longmont, will ask the City Council tonight to change city punishments for possession of pot in city limits.

If the council doesn’t agree to change city code, organizers will ask voters to do it.

Longmont resident Kevin Clowers is

leading the effort with about four others in the group.

While it would still be illegal for an adult to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, the group wants to lower the maximum fine to $5. City code sets the fine at $50 to $100 for an adult.

Organizers also hope to do away with jail time for public display or consumption of marijuana, replacing it instead with community service, and lower the fine for that offense to $25 from $100.

The current code would not change for juveniles.

Longmont’s marijuana ordinances are tougher than Colorado’s laws, Clowers said.

The state Legislature knocked down possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a petty offense in 2001. But under Longmont’s code, offenders can still find themselves in jail, on probation and with a criminal record, Clowers said.

“I think it would be in everyone’s interest to even that out,” he said.

Lowering the fine and taking away the possibility of jail time for adult offenders decriminalizes the offense — without legalizing marijuana — because it takes away the “value” of pursuing and prosecuting offenders, Clowers said.

“It’s not worth the trouble,” he said. “Five dollars lines it up with the value of the offense.”

Clowers said the changes would free up police officers and ease the burden on the municipal court, he said. “Chasing potheads is not a good way to spend an ever-diminishing budget,” he said. “We have lots of worse bad guys that need our attention.”

Longmont resident and proponent Paul Tiger also argues that decriminalizing pot would discourage people from taking advantage of the medical marijuana system for recreational use. Voters legalized the use of medical marijuana in Colorado in 2000.

“The goal here is really to show that it can be done, that we can decriminalize marijuana at a local level,” Tiger said. “That concerns our community, that customizes it for our community, and shows we don’t have to adopt a state law.”

Although the issue is not on the City Council agenda tonight, Clowers and other supporters plan to speak to the council about it during its meeting.

The City Council could opt to change the code, and Clowers hopes they’ll be receptive to the idea.

If not, Free Marijuana in Longmont organizers plan to circulate petitions and collect enough signatures to get the issue on November’s ballot.

“Ultimately there is one way to find out if there’s community support for the idea,” Clowers said, “and we think there is.”

By Rachel Carter

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