Attorney tells Hailey to slash marijuana reforms

January 16, 2008

Cassidy Friedman, Twin Falls Times-News (ID)

Strip the teeth from three Hailey marijuana reform initiatives - right down to the gums.

That's what Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson proposed Monday night to a city council that has already voiced considerable reluctance about the initiatives passed by voters in November.

In his presentation that ran late into the night, Williamson outlined his dramatic changes. He cut out making marijuana legal. He rendered impotent a committee charged with making marijuana Hailey police's lowest priority. That left policy statements and a committee.

"I kind of figured something like that was coming," said Ryan Davidson, who petitioned voters to sign his initiatives. "I think it's completely inappropriate. They didn't even try to make any of the initiatives work. Their claims of a lot of them (the initiatives' components) being invalid are, from a legal standpoint, just untrue."

The council has yet to fully respond and plans to discuss the recommended changes on Jan. 28.

But council members have already voiced significant concern that the initiatives would embroil the city in costly legal battles with the state, might violate their own First Amendment rights and force a city council woman to choose between her day job with the U.S. Forest Service and her elected post.

The three initiatives would legalize industrial hemp, decriminalize medicinal marijuana, and make enforcing marijuana laws the city's lowest priority. Davidson said he hoped the city government would wage a stronger fight on behalf of voters. He notes voters in both Denver and Missoula, Mont., recently passed similar initiatives making enforcing marijuana their cities' lowest police priority.

This November in Hailey, only 40 percent of voters went to the polls. Williamson said no law requires Hailey council to accept voter initiatives.

"There is nothing in the state Constitution or state statutes that would prohibit the City Council from amending or appealing initiative ordinances," Williamson said.

The Hailey Medical Marijuana Act would create an ordinance legalizing use and possession of 35 grams for medicinal purposes. Williamson suggested deleting a provision that would legalize medical marijuana and institute the process through a community oversight commission.

The Hailey Lowest Police Priority Act would create a Community Oversight Committee capable of making Hailey police officers ease up on pot offenses. Williamson's draft steals any power the committee might have to control law enforcement crack downs on marijuana offenses.

He recommended deleting requirements in both of those acts and a third act, the Hailey Industrial Hemp Act, for government officials to advocate changing marijuana or hemp laws.

Williamson said his redactions still leave two primary components of the initiatives standing.

"I think all three initiatives would still contain … a policy statement," he said. "This is my recommendation on provisions that I feel are illegal. I am not making any recommendations on policy matters. I am just making recommendations on legal language that I feel needs to be corrected.

"The other thing that is left over is the establishment of the oversight committee, which can meet and make recommendations to the city council."

Cassidy Friedman can be reached at 735-3241 or cfriedman@magicvalley.com

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