Denver OKs marijuana

November 03, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

DENVER -- Denver became the first city in the United States to wipe out all criminal and civil penalties for adults caught possessing a small amount of marijuana.

About 54 percent of voters supported a ballot measure Tuesday legalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by people 21 and over.

The ordinance is more radical than pro-marijuana measures approved over the years in San Francisco; Berkeley, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; and half a dozen college towns across the country. Most of those initiatives decriminalized marijuana for medical use, or replaced criminal penalties with small fines or directed police to make enforcement of marijuana laws a low priority.

Denver, by contrast, erased adult possession as an offense.

State laws banning marijuana, however, still apply in Denver. For years, police have cited most offenders under state law rather than city ordinance, as a matter of convenience.

Although the Denver vote might have no practical effect, advocates of relaxed drug laws said it was symbolic. Another issue on Tuesday's ballot also had national significance: the statewide vote to suspend the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which was considered the strictest cap on government spending in the country.

Voters agreed 52 percent to 48 percent to lift the cap and to relinquish their claim to an estimated $3.7 billion in tax refunds. The vote frees Colorado to spend millions more on higher education, health care and transportation.

But it infuriates fiscal conservatives who are pushing spending caps similar to Colorado's in several states, including California, Nevada and Arizona.

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