Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

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It’s high time

In the face of shrinking budgets, increased methamphetamine production and growing crime rates, the Dane County district attorney's office is going on record to say the county will not file criminal charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard told The Associated Press early this week that state funding has not kept pace with the county's growing population, and his shrinking staff will soon fall to its lowest level since 1988.

This policy is a welcome attempt toward freeing up resources, especially as area law enforcement officials devise new strategies aimed at reducing more pressing criminal activity. The Madison community should be pleased that the district attorney's office has its priorities straight and is more interested in protecting potential victims than creating criminals. They have correctly acknowledged that possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana does not constitute a serious threat to public safety. Thus, criminally prosecuting such minor cases would represent a gross misuse of the department's already sparse funding.

In addition to the recent announcement, Assistant District Attorney Mike Verveer told a Badger Herald reporter this week the district attorney's office has already "been following this policy in an informal way for quite some time."

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We are also pleased by what seems to be a trend toward codifying unwritten policies within Madison's public agencies. According to some sources in the city government, the Alcohol License Review Committee's Alcohol Density Plan — though incredibly flawed — also seeks to codify unwritten policy, and the Madison Police Department released written interviewing procedures last week that have already been in use. The public deserves transparency from its civil servants and local government, and publishing public policy spurs debate and encourages policy refinement — which is always a good thing.

Despite the new guidelines, marijuana possession can still attract a fine of up to $1,000 — so don't break out the bong just yet. Further, criminal charges may still be filed against people who commit additional offenses. This policy is not meant to sanction or promote the use of marijuana; instead, it aims to give the offense a level of priority that reflects reality. This common-sense plan will help alleviate strain on the district attorney's office and police resources, allowing the local government to focus its efforts on more serious offenders.

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