Rutherford Institute Proposes Pot Policy Change in Charlottesville

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A legal advocacy group is sounding off on a possible change in drug policy in the city of Charlottesville.  The Rutherford Institute wants the city to de-prioritize marijuana possession.

Charlottesville's Rutherford Institute is getting in the middle of the pot debate.  Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead said, "What Charlottesville can do is they can set an example for the rest of the nation."

Whitehead says that means making pot arrests and convictions less of a law enforcement priority in the city.  "Let's focus on real issues like urban problems, gang problems, homelessness and get off of this thing," he said.

Tuesday Whitehead fired off a six-page letter to city council members asking them to take the lead on ending the war on marijuana. 

Charlottesville Vice Mayor Kristin Szakos is open to the idea.  She said, "If they know that somebody is smoking marijuana who isn't causing any other trouble, maybe not arrest them, maybe not charge them."

At a recent council meeting a number of councilors shared that sentiment, but Szakos says possible new pot guidelines might not sit well with police.

"We've heard from police that they're concerned council not be in the business of law enforcement, and I think that's a legitimate position," said Szakos.

But Whitehead says it's time the city made a bold policy move for the nation to follow - a nation, he says, is losing the war on drugs.  "Marijuana is everywhere," he said.  "Even the president of the United States said he inhaled, so it's everywhere."

Whitehead also says it would make good fiscal sense.  He points to a recent Harvard study that says Virginia spends nearly $250 million a year on pot arrests and incarcerations.  Click here to see the letter.  


Rutherford Institute
Press Release

John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on members of the Charlottesville City Council to vote yes on a resolution which would declare marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority in the city. In a letter to the City Council, Whitehead points out that while overwhelming evidence points to the fact that the government's so-called war on drugs ranks as the longest-running, most expensive and least effective effort by the American government—as well as being racially and economically discriminatory—federal, state and local governments continue to operate under misguided policies that pose a great danger to American citizens while exhausting police resources. A far wiser approach, advises Whitehead, would be to de-prioritize marijuana arrests and prosecutions and redirect limited government resources toward addressing more pressing problems such as urban homelessness, poverty, hard-core drug dealing and gang activity.

The Rutherford Institute's letter to the Charlottesville City Council is available atwww.rutherford.org.

"In adopting the resolution to de-emphasize primary arrests for marijuana, the City Council has an opportunity to set an example for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the country about what it means to be a community that prioritizes people over policy," said Whitehead. "Doing so would also show that Charlottesville is progressive enough to act on Americans' changing attitudes towards marijuana possession, recognizing that the nation's drug war is a failure and that a new direction is sorely needed."

Charlottesville resident and activist Jordan McNeish proposed a resolution to the Charlottesville City Council that, if adopted, would de-emphasize marijuana as a cause for primary arrest in the city, freeing up valuable police resources which could then be directed to more pertinent problems, such as investigating and prosecuting violent crime and property crime. In calling on the City Council to adopt the resolution, constitutional attorney John Whitehead cited a number of studies and statistics indicating that the federal government's so-called "war on drugs" has caused the prison population to balloon to over 2 million people, wasted valuable state resources, and has created a burden for minority and lower-income communities, while doing little to resolve the issue of drug addiction. Moreover, for those who fear that de-emphasizing marijuana prosecutions might lead to an increase in drug use, Whitehead pointed to studies showing the contrary to be the case—that decriminalization actually results in reduced drug usage.

"The challenge is how to adequately address these problems in a compassionate and just manner without becoming overly legalistic and impersonal, thereby sacrificing the values and atmosphere which have endeared our community to so many," said Whitehead.

Putting the discussion in a more personal context, Whitehead recounted the case of 53-year-old Albemarle County resident Philip Cobbs who cares for his blind, deaf 90-year-old mother and who was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession after a joint task force comprised of state and local law enforcement officials, aided by military helicopter surveillance and acting without a search warrant, raided his property as part of a routine sweep of the countryside and allegedly found two marijuana stalks growing among weeds on his 39-acre property. "If we continue along our present course, it will only be a matter of time before someone is fatally injured, whether it be a member of our community or a law enforcement official," warned Whitehead. "Clearly, something must be done."