Missoula Group Wants to Know Why Marijuana Cases Are Up

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – Reported marijuana offenses have continued to increase in Missoula County despite a voter-approved initiative asking authorities to give such cases the lowest priority.

A committee tasked with overseeing how the initiative is being implemented revealed those findings Wednesday to the county commissioners and asked for help finding out why that’s the case.

The report by the Marijuana Initiative Oversight Committee shows that reports of law enforcement incidents involving marijuana have decreased slightly with the county sheriff’s office and the University of Montana. But in contrast, marijuana incidents reported by Missoula police have increased by 50 percent.

The committee analyzed date for the last half of 2008.

The oversight group said it needs to see the initial incident reports to get a better idea for why there’s been an increase. But law enforcement officials say those records are confidential.

“We’re coming to you to ask for your help,” Angela Goodhope, a member of the group, told commissioners. “Whether it’s overzealous law enforcement practice due to us voters maybe asking them to change their priorities, or whether it’s that people are flagrantly using marijuana because of (the initiative), we need to know this information.”

Missoula voters passed the initiative in 2006. It tells local law enforcement to make “citations, arrests, property seizures and prosecutions for adult marijuana offenses Missoula County’s lowest law enforcement priority.”

The initiative did not include marijuana sales or drugs by minors as low-priority offenses and it did not make marijuana legal.

In 2007, County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg issued a policy statement to law enforcement, asking them to “stop arresting individuals or writing and submitting tickets” when the offense is “solely possession of marijuana in misdemeanor amounts or possession of drug paraphernalia intended for use of marijuana.”

Van Valkenburg opposed the initiative.

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