Disorderly solution? Deaton proposes new pot possession charge
At the same time Colorado and Washington are decriminalizing marijuana possession, the issue popped up again at the February 19 Charlottesville City Council meeting, when Council voted 3-2 against doing away with jail time for pot possession.
Steve Deaton, a former prosecutor who is seeking his old job back, is sending them another proposal: Charge pot possessors with disorderly conduct instead.
Even though it's a higher level charge– a Class 1 misdemeanor– than marijuana possession, Deaton says in a Free Speech Wall press conference, that's better. "If a person makes a mistake, they should be punished. They shouldn't have their lives ruined." College acceptance, military enlistment, and immigration status are some of the "draconian collateral consequences" of first-time pot possession, he says.
Current requirements that possessors of a doobie lose their driver's license and are subject to drug treatment and drug testing in turn put a burden on probation, police, drug treatment programs and state forensic labs, says Deaton.
"This keeps it as a criminal offense," he reasons, of his alternative plan. The current system, he says, is a "kafkaesque" one that makes offenders jump through many hoops, and then the charge can be dismissed.
Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman, who soon will announce his run for a sixth term, agrees there are "collateral consequences" for marijuana possession, affecting student loans, housing, and immigration status that are "out of place, excessive, and undesirable."
But he isn't signing on with Deaton's disorderly conduct idea. Chapman says the current system lets pot offenders clear their records if they go through the process rather than have the Class 1 misdemeanor that Deaton proposes.
"We are all charged with a responsibility to enforce the law," says Chapman. "We don't get to pick and choose."
'Why not be creative with criminal justice?" asks Deaton. "We need to restore common sense."
City Council, over to you.