The University of Colorado Police Department arrested 53 people in 2005 for possession of marijuana in a city of 50,000. However, according to the Boulder County Civic Forum, Boulder County is the U.S. county leader in percentage of adults over age 25 who smoke marijuana. The discrepancy in statistics means police officers who catch offenders are probably confiscating the drug and letting many people go with warnings instead of arresting or ticketing them.
The punishment is up to a police officer’s judgment when dealing with marijuana possession, two CUPD officials said.
“All officers exercise discretion,” CUPD Chief Joe Roy said. “That’s one of the better parts of the police and our justice system. You could go out and enforce the letter of the law and write a whole bunch of tickets, but probably you’re not going to do the community a whole bunch of good.”
Roy said the person’s behavior also affects the actions the police officer takes.
“There are times when the police stop a person, you’re making subjective assessments,” Roy said. “The person’s response and reaction indicates that they understand that this is a problem. You get a sense that they don’t do it all the time. They’re not arguing with you about whether the law makes sense. They have some connection to the community that shows that they’re heading down a path to a productive life.”
The act of stopping a person might be enough to get the point across to a law violator.
“So you ask yourself,” Roy said. “‘Gee, does the fact that I pulled this guy over in broad daylight, the police lights are going on behind him and everyone is gawking as they drive by and staring at his face. Is that enough to get the message across or does this guy need a ticket?'”
Roy said there are a lot of encounters where police make decisions that do not result in tickets or arrests.
“We make a whole lot of contacts that we don’t make official, in other words, put people in the criminal justice system by writing tickets or putting people in jail,” Roy said.
Roy brought up a hypothetical to illustrate his point.
“They’re not smoking a joint, but they have got a pound in the trunk of their car,” Roy said. “There are people whose behavior, whose manner, indicates to you that their place is different. They are people who are potentially more serious violators. They are people who don’t get the point.”
CUPD Lt. Tim McGraw agreed with Roy’s analysis.
“We expect them to exercise discretion,” McGraw said. “On mere possession of marijuana, under an ounce, it’s a class two petty offense. That’s as low of an offense as you can go. It’s punishable by a fine of up to, but no more than, $100. Officers will sometime say, ‘look we’re going to confiscate this.’ Then maybe a referral to judicial affairs if the person is a student.”