Secret marijuana compromise should go up in puff of smoke Tony Messenger | Columbia Daily Tribune | 11/13/2005 The three worlds of Dan Viets have collided. Dan Viets the civil liberties attorney wouldn’t be all that happy with Dan Viets the government conspirator. Stuck in the middle is Dan Viets the marijuana legalization advocate. It was that Viets, the friend of pot, who pushed for passage of an ordinance last year that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in the city limits of Columbia. Voters a year ago passed a law that would force cops to defer many minor pot cases to municipal court - generally, that was happening anyway - and to basically treat such crimes as no big deal. This year, the cops who enforce that law struck back. They initiated a petition drive to overturn the law. They said voters were misled. They said the law made Columbia less safe. They planned to bring law and order back to the community. Viets, knowing his proposal had failed before and might again depending on the time of year the potential ballot issue might be voted on, called in his alter ego, Dan Viets the government conspirator. That Viets started meeting secretly with Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Crane to stop the cops in their tracks. Word of these negotiations slipped out, but Viets wouldn’t talk about it. Neither would the cops. All we knew is that Crane, the one man who had trust from both sides, would work with Viets and the cops to try to come up with some sort of compromise. On the surface, it’s a good idea. Columbia is a compromising kind of city. We have room for all sorts of discussion and debate. And elections are expensive. Why not compromise? This is where Viets the government conspirator loses his way. Thanks to the work of Associated Press reporter Alan Scher Zagier, we know what the compromise entails. We also know what Viets expects of the Columbia City Council: a rubber stamp. The compromises themselves generally sound fair enough. Cops will be able to bust repeat offenders and other criminals who try to skirt by using the umbrella of the weakened pot laws. And legalization proponents can avoid another drawn out legal battle. Viets, it turns out, wants no battle at all. "This proposal is the result of a long and painstaking process of negotiation," he wrote to Mayor Darwin Hindman, in a letter Zagier obtained through an open-records request. "Any changes beyond the ones which both parties have agreed to will not be supported by either side. … It would be improper for the Council to presume to make any other changes beyond the ones which have been agreed to …" Viets the civil liberties lawyer wouldn’t be happy that a conspiracy of public and private enterprises is trying to bind a public board from changing something they didn’t vote on in the first place. He wouldn’t presume they have a right to do that. This is the Dan Viets who helped fight to force the city to open its airport for proper protests during the annual Memorial Day air show. This is the Dan Viets who sued the state earlier this year because of an unconstitutional drug-testing plan, saying "the effort to enforce marijuana prohibition has led to many attacks on fundamental civil liberties, and this is one of them." This is the Dan Viets who, as a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, targeted Boone County grand juries in 1998 for their secrecy, saying they didn’t provide defendants due process. Now his doppelganger, Dan Viets the government conspirator, is joining forces with the very man he criticized then to bypass public discussion and change a law that voters approved. The changes might be good. The result might be the best one. But the process is secret, and it’s Viets who specifically asks the mayor to rein in the council and make sure there are no more changes. If this were a discussion over any topic other than one that Viets supported, he’d be the first to scream about closed government, and he’d be right. It shouldn’t matter that Viets’ group brought forward the petition - it was voters who approved it. On behalf of them, Dan Viets the civil liberties attorney would object. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, he would say, government conducted behind closed doors is no government at all. He would be right.