Douglas, Sand dispute over marijuana cases erupts again

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(Host) A dispute has erupted again between the governor and the Windsor County prosecutor.

The governor accuses the state’s attorney of abusing his discretion by sending all first-time marijuana possession cases to court diversion.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, the prosecutor says the governor doesn’t have his facts straight.

(Sneyd) Governor Jim Douglas and Windsor County State’s Attorney Robert Sand have had a running disagreement for a year about marijuana law.

Douglas, appearing on VPR’s Vermont Edition, made clear he’s still not happy with how Sand is handling marijuana possession cases.

(Douglas) “The essence of prosecutorial discretion is making a decision based on the facts of an individual case. But when you say I have a blanket policy, I don’t care what the facts are, this is how this is going to be treated, that’s not an exercise of discretion.”

(Sneyd) And he says that’s just what Sand has, a hard-and-fast policy that every first-time marijuana case will be referred to court diversion.

That’s what Sand did last month when a Windsor lawyer was charged with possessing 36 marijuana plants and more than two pounds of dry marijuana.

Sand referred the woman’s case to court diversion, allowing her to avoid a felony conviction.

And that prompted Douglas to order state police  to bypass Sand’s office when they have major possession cases in Windsor County. Instead, they’re now taking their cases to the attorney general or U.S. attorney.

But Sand says Douglas doesn’t have it right.

(Sand) “My policy is that every case that comes into the office gets reviewed on its individual merits and a decision made at that point about whether to go forward, what charges to file and what type of sentence recommendation or other disposition is appropriate.”

(Sneyd) Douglas and Sand even disagree on that. Relying on a transcript of a television news report, Douglas says it’s clear Sand has a blanket policy.

But Sand says he doesn’t have such a policy.

The Douglas-Sand dispute has gotten attention again this week after it was reported that a marijuana possession case in Orange County also was sent to court diversion.

In that case, the suspect had 110 plants.

Douglas says there’s a big difference because the woman in the Windsor County case was a lawyer and a part-time Family Court judge. He says it appears she was let off easy because of her

(Douglas) “So the double standard, the perception of a double standard is one very great matter of concern on the part of Vermonters.”

(Sneyd) Sand says the standard should be the same for everyone, regardless of their occupation.

(Sand)“ Ultimately, what I decided was this wasn’t a crime of fraud or deceit for which it might be fair to hold a lawyer to a higher standard. This was a crime involving substance abuse. And substance abuse problems cut across professions, age, gender, socio-economic status.”

(Sneyd) Sand says he’ll continue judging cases as they come, although he says he gets only about ten felony marijuana cases a year.

And the governor says his order stands that state police cases from Windsor County will go to the attorney general or the federal prosecutor.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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