The Denver City Attorney's office dropped all charges Wednesday against a real estate consultant caught with a small amount of marijuana, saying the search of the defendant's vehicle was done improperly.
"We hope this sends a message to police to stop wasting their time," said Mason Tvert, executive director of the pro-legalization SAFER. "This also shows that prosecutors have prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute pot possession cases, and that police have the discretion not to cite people."
Eric Footer, 39, was charged with possession of less than an ounce of pot and a pipe after he was pulled over in Denver on Nov. 17. He faced $200 in fines.
His court battle was seen as a case testing the clash between city and state law. Denver voters passed a city ordinance in November that legalized small amounts of pot possession for adults. But the drug was still outlawed by state statutes.
Footer's defense attorney, Brian Vicente, planned to present three legal defenses, one of which claiming that his client had a reasonable basis to believe that he wasn't breaking the law.
The fact that his client allowed his car to be searched was proof that Footer believed the voters' decision two weeks earlier protected him, Vicente said.
Assistant City Attorney Grew Rawlings said his office plans to continue prosecuting pot cases, and that Footer's case was dropped because it was weak.
"We had a dozen pot-related cases today and it seemed by far the weakest one," he said. "So I prosecuted the others and just dismissed that one."
Tvert didn't buy it.
"In my opinion, that's bulls***," he said. "(Footer) openly consented to the search, so anything police did after that was legal. The fact they're saying that, they're clearly being pressured."
Legalization proponents believe the case was dropped because the city was afraid to hear the legal arguments Vicente would have presented.
"(A court case) would point out how hypocritical our laws are and that Denver's a home-rule city, and they didn't want it to be made public that they defied the will of the people," Tvert said.
Denver voters approved Initiative 100 in November, 54 to 46 percent.
Denver is a home-rule city, meaning it's granted the right and authority to regulate behavior within its boundaries. However, state statues would apply if the conduct impacted the entire state. And drug regulation is an issue the state would want to regulate, said Kirk Brush, a Fort Collins defense attorney not affiliated with the case.
Vicente said he was looking forward to presenting his arguments in court, but nonetheless, is pleased with the outcome.
"The greatest victory was for the Denver voters," he said. "It tells Denver police that if they cite people, the prosecutor might not prosecute the case."
Brandon Lowrey contributed to this story.