Colorado’s supposed marijuana legalization apocalypse is proving to be Y2K harmless, and even beneficial for its residents. This is amidst the boom of small marijuana shops, which has poured in millions of tax dollars from local consumers and weed tourists alike.
Denver, dubbed the “Mile High” city, now has about 340 recreational and medicinal pot shops. In the first four months of legalization, marijuana sales amounted to more than $202 million, about a third of them recreational. Taxes from recreational sales were almost $11 million.
And despite some critics’ fears of a pot-driven crime explosion, the social structure is still standing quite strong, with crime rates even dropping. Denver police say burglaries and robberies were down by between 4 and 5 percent in the first four months of the year.
“The sky hasn’t fallen, but we’re a long way from knowing the unintended consequences,” said Andrew Freeman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado. “This is a huge social and economic question.”
On the down side, sheriff’s deputies in neighboring Nebraska say pot seizures near the Colorado border have shot up 400 percent in three years, while Wyoming and New Mexico report no significant increases.
Some in local law enforcement along the I-80 corridor claim that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
“If you think that just what you read about from patrol interdiction stops is what’s happening, then it is a distorted picture, because you are not getting the whole picture,” Sheriff Mark Overman said of the drug problem. “You’re not reading about the stops that we make here and all the cases that we’re doing here and in fact all over Nebraska. You (only) read about the big ones.”
Colorado’s attorney general, John Suthers, acknowledges marijuana legally grown and illegally sold out of state, the drug trade referred to as “diversion” in law enforcement, remains a significant issue.
“The folks in Nebraska, Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming, they didn’t vote for this, but their supply is being increased by what’s going on in Colorado,” Suthers said.
Suthers said in 2012 there were record seizures of Colorado-packaged marijuana: 72-hundred pounds picked up in 37 states, including Nebraska.
But as arrest numbers rise, state policy makers and top law enforcement officials have had no public discussion about how, or if, to respond to situation. Most officials said they preferred to take a “wait and see” approach.
State Senator Ken Schilz represents District 47, covering much of the Nebraska panhandle. “Did we have any discussions with the Legislature about this? No,” Schilz said.
Schilz just started thinking about the side effects of living on the Colorado border. To date the only mention of the issue came from constituents rather than lawmakers back in Lincoln. He agreed a “wait and see” approach may be best.
“I don’t think that we should just step out and think that things are going to go to hell in a hand basket just because this has happened across the border”, said Schilz.
Attorney General Bruning agrees, saying there is not enough evidence to warrant discussion of providing additional financial support to county attorneys or sheriffs facing potential increases in pot cases.
“I haven’t heard any local law enforcement cry uncle about the resources it’s taking for large shipments of marijuana that come through the I-80 corridor,” Bruning said.
Concerning marijuana public awareness, Bruning goes onto say that he thinks “Nebraskans are smart enough to know. There is small group of Nebraskans that are interested in that and they ought to know the rules. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
With law makers and law enforcement remaining indecisive on the issue, others, like Ally Dering-Anderson, a pharmacy professor teaching at Nebraska Medical Center, points out that the discussion is “sorely lacking.” Dering-Anderson has been promoting a public discussion of marijuana policy, regardless of whether people support or oppose total legalization.
“There is virtually no discussion at a public policy level and we probably should because it is clear it is at our back door,” Dering-Anderson said.
One possible issue, raised by pharmacy professor Dering-Anderson, is the mixed messages being given young people as more and more states legalize medical marijuana and change drug laws. She pointed out much of western Nebraska gets its news from Denver-based media.
When our neighbor says ‘this is okay, we think this is safe, we ought to be able to do this,’ children hear the message this is okay and this is safe and it’s an appropriate recreational product,” Dering-Anderson said. “I don’t think this is a good message to send to children ever.”
With Colorado likely to promote ‘pot-tourism’ in 2014 Bruning even dismissed the idea of launching any kind of public information campaign to remind people of the consequences for bringing their stash back home. Bruning promised “if they bring it back they are going to have a problem.”
Previous attempts to legalize marijuana in Nebraska failed handily. Strong opposition from some quarters is guaranteed. Only 15 percent of county law enforcement favored even a legislative debate over legalizing medical marijuana.
“I’m pretty old-fashioned. I just don’t see that it’s a great idea to make marijuana legal or anything else that alters the mind,” exclaimed Bruning.