With the staggering increase in drug busts on I-80 in Nebraska, it is no secret that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational use has had an effect on surrounding states and their communities. Lawmen on the state’s marijuana frontier are asking for help to identify and counter drugged-up drivers, marijuana growing, and marijuana use by young people. Western Nebraska law enforcement have answered the cry for help, outlining the impact Colorado’s marijuana legalization laws have had.
“Colorado’s legalization of marijuana has completely changed the landscape involving the marijuana that we encounter,” said Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman.
Overman was one of about a dozen law enforcement officials and others who have outlined the new challenges facing Nebraska. He is particularly concerned with the pot encountered by law enforcement these days, as the potency has increased dramatically, with prices have tripled in relation to the new level of quality. To top it all off, kids as young as 14 are now using this THC-drenched superpot and being ticketed in drug busts and placed in the criminal justice system.
State Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala chimed in on the illicit transport of Colorado marijuana, saying “Every Interstate 80 county is a border county.”
State Sen. Al Davis of Hyannis said that next year he and his fellow state senators would introduce new legislation designed to tackle the problem, but that it would be installed gradually and cautiously.
“Are we ruining the people’s lives who are really going to be good people down the road? I don’t think any of us want to do that,” he said. “I’d like to find a middle ground to send a message to people that Nebraska’s not a marijuana-friendly state but not destroy somebody’s life. When I hear that people have a felony for a marijuana brownie, I’m not sure I want to do that to anybody.”
Davis apparently wants to have his cake and eat it too (no pun intended), by protecting Nebraskans while also helping law enforcement agencies do their job at the same time. He went on to express his concerns for the hardship of everyone in the judicial system, and how their workload has increased exponentially due to the mass drug busts. His biggest concern, however, is with law enforcement, that western sheriff’s offices and police departments could use more manpower and money.
“Obviously, this produces added costs, which create a burden for taxpayers across the state but primarily in the affected counties close to Colorado,” he said.
Aside from that, he mentioned the state law needs more clarity. For example, some officials claim it’s impossible to prosecute people possessing marijuana-laced edibles, while others fully prosecute such offenders. “We need a statutory definition of what edibles are’’ Davis said.
Another problem that was discussed is how marijuana affects the highway—a problem that far outreaches Nebraska’s state lines. A recent federal study found that Colorado marijuana destined for 40 states had been intercepted during highway stops 288 times in 2013. From 2009 to 2013, post-legalization, the average number of highway seizures of Colorado marijuana per year quadrupled. This also extends to identifying drug-impaired drivers, a major problem addressed by Paul Schaub, county attorney in Cheyenne and Deuel Counties.
Officer Overman thinks the problem lies in not having adequate staff, with deputies spending only a fraction of their time patrolling the major highways.
“We would welcome additional state troopers, but that will not solve the problem,’’ Overman said.
Ryan Spohn, director of the Nebraska Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, agrees. “Research generally indicates that increasing the certainty of punishment, as opposed to the severity of punishment, is more likely to result in deterrence. Most simply … if individuals do not believe that they will be caught the severity of the punishment doesn’t matter, because they do not believe that the punishment will occur,’’ he said.