Breckenridge voters OK marijuana decriminalization
November 4, 2009
BRECKENRIDGE – Breckenridge residents voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia under town law. Unofficial results show 71 percent of voters approved the initiative.
“We’re done with the days people could laugh off marijuana reform,” said Sean McAllister, Breckenridge attorney and chair of reform group Sensible Breckenridge. “I believe the implicit implications are that we should have a dialogue about taxing marijuana.”
Tuesday’s vote means that effective Jan. 1, people 21 and up in Breckenridge will be able to legally possess one ounce or less of the drug. Possession remains illegal under state law, but Breckenridge Police Chief Rick Holman said his department will “still have the ability to exercise discretion.”
“It’s never been something that we’ve spent a lot of time on, so I don’t expect this to be a big change in how we really do business,” he said.
Currently, the petty, non-jailable offense under town code carries a maximum $100 fine. In 2008, Breckenridge Police Department ticketed 10 people under the town marijuana possession law, according to BPD ticket statistics.
For drug paraphernalia – which carries the same penalty – four were ticketed in 2008.
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Under the state law, BPD issued three tickets for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. Holman said that after Jan. 1, issuance of tickets under state law will “vary dependent on the situation.”
“We’ll still have tools at our disposal,” he said.
Breckenridge Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron, who supported the measure, said Tuesday’s vote will give the police more time to focus on higher priorities.
“I’m not really surprised,” Bergeron said of the results. “I just think people recognize this isn’t going to be a life-altering change in how people in Breckenridge live.”
The decriminalization won’t change laws prohibiting smoking in public, use by minors or driving under the influence.
In 2006, 72 percent of Breckenridge voters supported the unsuccessful Amendment 44, which had language similar to the town initiative but applied to the entire state.
Brian Vicente of Sensible Colorado – the statewide nonprofit that assisted the local effort – said Tuesday’s results show Breckenridge is leading the country in sensible drug reform.
“We hoped for the best but planned like we needed every single vote,” he said.
McAllister said the result was “very satisfying” and he was impressed with the high turnout of young people.
“Democracy is best when everybody participates,” he said, adding that several Republican voters expressed support during the campaign. “I’m very appreciative of the conservative vote we got.”
“As long as someone isn’t hurting someone else, they should be left alone,” McAllister said.
In 2005, Denver became the first major city to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana after voters approved legislation similar to that in Breckenridge.
And like many other towns in the state, Breckenridge could soon be home to a medical marijuana dispensary. The town passed a set of regulations for such businesses in October, and the dispensaries already exist in Frisco and Silverthorne.
Holman said that while his department may still ticket people for possessing marijuana, people who want to smoke it legally can obtain a state-issued medical marijuana card without much difficulty.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.