TUCSON, Ariz. - When Arizona voters made it legal for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana they set the stage for changing the way law enforcement and courts handle low level drug cases, but Pima County courts and prosecutors already had a long-standing commitment to treatment over prison time.
When voters approved Proposition 207 they made it legal for adults to have one ounce of marijuana as soon as election results are certified and the law officially takes effect. But long before the prop passed, the Pima County Attorney's office made it a policy that minor marijuana possession did not justify an arrest and a criminal record.
Chief Deputy Pima County Attorney Amelia Cramer says for 24 years County Attorney Barbara LaWall handled possession of small amounts of marijuana as a misdemeanor that deserved drug education and a chance to have charges dropped.
She says with Prop 207 making it legal for adults to have one ounce or less, slightly larger amounts of marijuana would be a petty offense.
“Which would be treated by paying a fine so it would be similar to diversion above that it's still going to be a class six felony, up to two pounds and so we're still going to be operating under the same rubric that we have been with law enforcement, citing people with those larger quantities that were wanted into Justice Court and the city courts and then the county attorney's office will offer diversion to those in Justice Court. “
Superior Court Judge Danelle Liwski presides over the felony criminal courts. She says Pima County has several drug related programs including specialized drug courts designed to help people break out of drug use and be productive parts of society.
“Criminal records as most people know can affect employment can affect the opportunity to move forward in a productive way because if you're unable to be employed or to get that next job or to need a background information, those kind of things then you're unable to to move forward, which again kind of leads people backwards into drugs.”
And while some drug users re-offend, return to treatment, or end up behind bars, both Amelia Cramer and Judge Liwski say many make the most of the help they receive and don’t get in trouble again.