Denver Marijuana Law Set for Legal Test

A voter-approved city ordinance legalizing private possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years and older in Denver will take the limelight today in a city trial against a a 24-year-old college student.Tim Arndt, a freshman at Metro State College of Denver, is facing a jury trial over possession charges that were incurred when he was stopped by police while walking in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and found to be carrying a few grams of marijuana.

The legalization ordinance has been tested in city courts before, where offenders are still charged by prosecutors for breaking state laws against pot.

Colorado Confidential reported in December that fighting possession citations in Denver has actually boded well for offenders:

On Monday, Dec. 10, the city dropped charges against Hayley Jaqua, a 25-year-old college student who pleaded not guilty to a possession charge of under an ounce of marijuana. The charges were dropped under the conditions of a plea agreement, where Jaqua will attend an adult diversion program, which “will likely entail community service,” according to SAFER Denver, the pro-legalization group that successfully passed the initiative to legalize possession of marijuana in the city.

Individuals cited for possession of under an ounce in Denver are required to pay a $100 fine if found guilty under state law, even though the drug has been legalized under city law for over two years.

In another similar public case, 21-year-old student Sara Tafoya pleaded not guilty to a marijuana possession charge in May, and later had it pleaded down to a charge of paraphernalia.

Both cases involved college students who would have lost their federal and state financial aid if convicted of a possession charge. Under the Aid Elimination Penalty, a provision in the federal Higher Education Act passed by Congress in 1998, students are denied federal aid if they are convicted of certain state or federal drug offenses, not including paraphernalia.

Arndt’s case is similar in that he also stands to lose financial aid if he is found guilty.

Denver voters passed an initiative legalizing private possession of marijuana in 2005, along with another measure to make such cases a “lowest law enforcement priority” for police in 2007.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at