Missoula County's Initiative 2, which recommended that law enforcement make adult marijuana crimes their lowest priority, never got much respect. Fifty-five percent of voters supported the measure in 2006. Soon after, county officials decided voters didn't understand the implications of their vote and changed the law so that it only applied to misdemeanor crimes, not felonies. The Missoula County Marijuana Oversight Committee's annual reports found that marijuana offenses actually increased following the law's passage. That was because Missoula police ignored it; it was a county, not city, directive.
And then the 2011 Montana Legislature made I-2 moot. Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg helped draft House Bill 391, which prohibited local initiatives from establishing priority of enforcement of state law. "It's bad policy," Van Valkenburg said during the legislative session. "People at the local level should not be deciding how state laws are enforced."
Now that the county's no longer bound to enforce I-2, the Marijuana Oversight Committee is dissolving. The Missoula Board of County Commissioners wrote a letter to committee members last month saying that "significant changes in the landscape of laws related to marijuana negate the efficacy of the initiative and the committee."
John Masterson, who's chaired the committee since its inception and is also the director of Montana NORML, is discouraged but realistic. With the new law and the "explicit non-compliance asserted by every relevant local law enforcement official," he recently wrote in a note to fellow committee members, "I think we have good reason to call it a day and save the county the expense and hassle of administering the back-office details associated with the existence of the committee."
Before the committee dissolves, Masterson wants to publish one more report on the number of marijuana incidents in the city and county in 2011. In it, he hopes the committee's eight members will contribute a statement reflecting on the board's work.
Masterson, for one, is going to "give some advice to members of the community who had optimism about the impact that I-2 might have in terms of establishing a more sane and just policy with regards to responsible adult marijuana use. That optimism has been dashed, and so I think a question that many voters will be asking is, 'Well, hell, that didn't work. What can we do?'" One answer, he says, is to support Constitutional Initiative 110, which would decriminalize marijuana in Montana altogether.