A report released Wednesday suggests a jump in marijuana offenses in Missoula County compared to last year, despite the passage in 2006 of Initiative 2, the “marijuana initiative,” which made adult misdemeanor marijuana offenses the County’s lowest law enforcement priority.
Marijuana incidents in the City of Missoula, the County and on the University of Montana campus are up 27 percent, the report estimates; 63 percent in the city alone.
The numbers are stark enough for the Community Oversight Committee that compiled the report (PDF) to conclude: “The voters’ recommendation is apparently being ignored by most of the officials in a position to heed it.”
John Masterson, chair of the committee and director of Montana NORML, says it should be disappointing to the 55 percent of voters in Missoula County and the 80 percent of voters in some city precincts that voted for the initiative.
But no matter the vote margin, Missoula Chief of Police Mark Muir says nothing’s being ignored — it’s a county, not city, initiative. “The initiative itself never gave any direction to municipal government. Period.”
“(The Committee is) blatantly accusing the city of a rising emphasis on marijuana, which is absolutely not true,” he said.
So then why have the number of marijuana offenses increased? One theory, to which both Masterson and Muir subscribe, is that some people are more flagrant in their pot smoking because they wrongly believe the initiative protects them within the city.
“There is a fairly significant number of people who have ignored and failed to recognize all along that you couldn’t just decide to possess marijuana in city limits like you could outside the city limits,” Muir said, “which I think could have led to higher instances of marijuana use.”
But Muir contends that the actual increase isn’t as high as the report suggests. The Department’s year-to-date data show a 16 percent increase in total drug charges reported, which is unlikely to support the Committee’s estimate of a 63 percent rise in marijuana incidents.
Muir also points out that there has been a notable increase in disorderly conduct arrests (up 52 percent) and adult liquor law violations (up 177 percent), both of which “typically involve street contacts and could easily suggest a hypothesis that we are finding more persons who happen to be in possession of marijuana or paraphernalia when they are stopped for other offenses.”
But peruse through the cases and you’ll see police officers are looking awfully hard for marijuana, Masterson says. He cites one case where pot residue was lifted from a vehicle console with white tape, and another in which a man was busted with less than a hundredth of a gram.
“It’s my contention that they could focus on the primary offenses,” Masterson said. “There’s no compelling moral force that says you must also shake ‘em down to find some pot.”
The report acknowledges that the data are “imperfect, and so drawing comparative conclusions may not be sound.”
Indeed, Muir says. “My statistics teacher over at the University’s criminology department would have handed the report back to me with a big fat ‘F’ on it.”