DENVER - A city drug panel has voted to urge police to refrain from arresting adults for marijuana possession during next week's Democratic National Convention, but the cops aren't necessarily on board.
Lt. Ernie Martinez, the police department's representative on the panel, said police, bracing for potentially tens of thousands of protesters during the Aug. 25-28 convention, would have more pressing duties than rounding up pot smokers.
At the same time, he said, authorities wouldn't ignore blatant flouting of the law. "If something occurs in front of us, we're going to act," he said.
The Denver Marijuana Policy Review Panel, appointed by Mayor John Hickenlooper, voted 5-3 at its Wednesday night meeting to issue a recommendation discouraging police from "arresting, detaining or issuing a citation" to any adult caught with up to one ounce of marijuana during the four-day convention.
Denver voters have twice approved initiatives calling on police to overlook adult marijuana possession but police, citing state and federal laws, have continued to make marijuana-related arrests. A department spokesman yesterday said it was reviewing the panel's recommendation.
Mason Tvert, a panel member and pot-legalization activist, Thursday delivered a copy of the panel's recommendation to Mr. Hickenlooper and police Chief Gerry Whitman, saying that "we expect police to abide by this very logical recommendation."
"If police expect the taxpayers to cover their $1.2 million in overtime during the DNC, it is only fair that they respect the laws adopted by those taxpayers," said Mr. Tvert, leader of Safer Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation. "There will be plenty for police to do during the DNC aside from arresting or citing adults who are simply making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol."
Mr. Tvert told the panel Wednesday that authorities have actually increased their enforcement of marijuana laws since the 2005 and 2007 votes. Based on current numbers, he said, the city is on track to prosecute 1,900 marijuana-related cases this year, up from 1,600 last year.
In 2005, Denver voters approved a measure legalizing adult possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. Two years later, an initiative making adult marijuana possession the city's lowest law enforcement priority also won at the ballot box.
Mr. Tvert said he hoped the police would give the panel's recommendation the same weight as if it were issued by the mayor.
"There's no way for the recommendation to be binding, but it was issued by a panel appointed by the mayor, so we would expect it to be treated as a pronouncement from the mayor," said Mr. Tvert.
The Denver County Sheriff's Office gave a media tour earlier this week of its temporary holding cell, a renovated warehouse intended to house anyone arrested during the convention.
The facility, equipped with a photo station and 18-by-18 holding cells, can process 60 people an hour and hold up to 400 detainees.
Local activists have already dubbed the facility "Gitmo by the Platte," referring to the nearby Platte River, but it could have been worse. Officials abandoned earlier plans to line the top of the cells with razor wire after objections from the community.
Authorities are bracing for potentially tens of thousands of protesters during the Aug. 25-28 convention. Demonstrators will be fenced in at a designated protest area in the vicinity of the Pepsi Center, the site of most convention events.
The protesters, affiliated with groups like Recreate 68 and the Alliance for a Real Democracy, are expected to demonstrate against the Iraq war and in favor of social-justice issues.
One anti-war organization, Tent State University, has estimated that its group alone will attract 50,000 demonstrators. The group had hoped to camp overnight at a local park until city authorities nixed the idea.
Valerie Richardson covers politics and the West from Denver. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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