Statistics show Breckenridge police backed off recreational marijuana charges in 2010, following the 2008 voter approval of a measure decriminalizing marijuana possession in the town.
Breckenridge authorities filed only 10 cases of marijuana possession — including five against people under age 21 — through the Breckenridge municipal court in 2010, down from 23 cases filed in 2008, according to information provided by the Breckenridge Police Department.
Four of the 2010 cases were filed against people smoking in public, which is still prohibited in Breckenridge.
State law still prohibits the possession of non-medical marijuana, and local authorities have the right to charge offenders under Colorado or federal laws. But in Breckenridge, generally, they don't.
“It's still a state (law) violation,” Breckenridge Police Chief Rick Holman said. “We can cite them into county court ... but our policy is that, unless they're involved in other crime activity, (we don't).”
Breckenridge sent a total of nine marijuana-related cases to county court in 2009, but only four last year.
Down across district
Breckenridge's marijuana-tolerant trends mirror numbers from the Fifth Judicial District as a whole, which prosecuted only 12 felony marijuana cases in 2010, compared with 43 in 2008, according to data released by the district attorney's office.
The District Attorney handled 93 petty offense marijuana charges last year, down from more than 250 in 2008. Of the 2010 charges, all but four were filed in conjunction with other offenses. None of the four possession-only charges came from Summit County.
Both Holman and District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said the increase in the number of medical marijuana card holders might have contributed to the drop in recreational marijuana busts in the last few years.
The Summit County Sheriff's Office continues to take a hard stance on recreational marijuana, according to Sheriff John Minor, who said his office enforces state prohibition of recreational marijuana and has not changed its enforcement practices in recent years.
Still, many of the 50 people charged with marijuana-related offenses through the sheriff's office were either using the drug in public or were caught with it after committing another crime.
“You have to understand that most of these people are being stupid,” Minor said of the individuals charged with marijuana offenses. “They're bringing attention to themselves with law enforcement.”
Still too many?
While local legalization advocates say they're pleased with the downward trend in possession charges, the number of cases is still too high in an area where the majority of voters supported an amendment proposal in 2006 which, if passed, would have legalized the possession of marijuana for people over age 21 statewide.
“We see (about) 100 people a year being prosecuted in the district for simple possession cases, which is still contrary to the will of the voters,” local criminal defense attorney Sean McAllister said.
“I'm tired of representing people on marijuana charges,” McAllister added in an e-mail. “These people are not criminals and don't deserve a criminal record.”
Along with other marijuana lawyers in the state, McAllister is backing a new legalization ballot initiative for 2012.
He said the central mountain region has become the progressive core of support for legalization efforts.
“I think people who live here realize that marijuana is not as harmful as alcohol,” McAllister said. “I think there's more of an openness to it in the mountains.”
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