COLORADO: When he started his tenure as district attorney of the 20th Judicial District of Colorado in 2009, Stan Garnett had not given marijuana a lot of thought.
“The legislature decides what the laws are, and my job is to enforce them,” Garnett said during a recent interview. “When I came into office, marijuana was illegal except in certain medical situations, and I inherited a couple of felony cases that my predecessor had filed that were prosecutions for possession of marijuana.”
This was at the same time that the Obama administration first indicated it wouldn’t interfere with states that legalized medical marijuana, which resulted in a stampede of dispensaries opening in Colorado, which had legalized medical use with the passage of Amendment 20 in 2000 but hadn’t codified rules and regulations for dispensary operations.
“We went to trial, cause I’m a big one for going to trial, because I think it’s good to get the public and press involved,” says Garnett.
“I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, and almost immediately juries came back with a not-guilty verdict. Some jurors actually came down afterwards and asked me why I was wasting their time.”
So, after studying the issue, in September of 2009 his office announced that it would make marijuana its lowest priority. “Our juries are very pro law-and-order,” Garnett said, “and they care a lot about making Boulder County safe. We get great convictions on tough cases. But it was clear to me that they weren’t going to convict on marijuana possession. And that kind of thrust me into the statewide debate about how dispensaries fit into Amendment 20. How do we create a legal framework for them?” Garnett became involved in what became House
Bill 1284, which created rules and regulations for medical marijuana growing, processing and distribution. “We all shared the feeling that you need to keep it away from kids,” Garnett says. “But can we regulate its distribution, just like other things that are controversial, like pornography or alcohol? But the idea of prohibiting it criminally was unwise, I thought, because it just doesn’t work. The criminal justice system only works when the vast majority of the community agrees that what should be against the law is against the law.”
Will legalization make his job easier or more difficult?
“I don’t think it’s gonna change much, to be honest,” he says. “Again, the issue is, can we control the distribution of marijuana in a way that’s consistent with community values? The regulatory schemes I’ve seen in Boulder and Denver are going to be pretty effective at controlling the distribution, so I don’t think it’s going to change much.”