A Missoula City Council committee discussion about making misdemeanor marijuana offenses law enforcement’s lowest priority elicited strong opinions from officials last week. A specific city resolution would follow Missoula County voters’ passage of Initiative 2, which called for similar action from county law enforcement in 2006.
“The more I think about it, the more riled up I get about it,” says Ward 3 Councilmember Bob Jaffe. “Drug law in this country is just a travesty. If you look at what we spend on incarceration and tax dollars, it’s really appalling. The black market we create, the crime, the murders, all the awful stuff that revolves around drug dealing—it’s all because it’s illegal. They should be legal, they should be taxed, they should be regulated and completely eliminate the whole thing.”
While other council members also lined up with Jaffe, law enforcement voiced concerns about the idea. Police Chief Mark Muir and City Attorney Jim Nugent both say such a measure would fall outside of their jurisdiction.
“I wouldn’t tell my officers they couldn’t arrest somebody for it because that takes away the discretion they are provided by state law,” says Muir.
Muir specified that Initiative 2 applies to county officials, such as Sheriff Mike McMeekin and County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg, and not city law enforcement. He also objected to a report stating that the Missoula Police Department has recorded more marijuana-related “incidents” in 2008 than the previous year. He attributed the rise to a zero-tolerance campaign that targeted underage drinking and downtown violence, but also turned up marijuana use. These “incidents” didn’t necessarily involve arrests or prosecution, but simply an encounter with pot.
Despite law enforcement’s apprehension, Jaffe voiced his strong support of the city reinforcing Initiative 2. When asked if he could compel Muir and Nugent to honor a council resolution, Jaffe simply noted that City Council controls both departments’ budgets.
Public Safety and Health Committee Chairman Dave Strohmaier has not yet scheduled the topic for further discussion.