Police seeing more marijuana from Colorado

Posted 1/8/15

On the other hand, the chief dislikes the unhelpful impacts of having free-flowing marijuana nearby.

Between the start of September and the middle of November, Powell police cited 29 people for drug-related offenses, mostly after traffic stops. …

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Police seeing more marijuana from Colorado


On the one hand, Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt thinks it’s helpful that nearby Colorado has legalized marijuana, “because I refer to them as the Petri dish a lot.

“It’s given us an opportunity to see what’s taken place in Colorado to better gauge our opinions and what directions we go with things,” Eckerdt said.

On the other hand, the chief dislikes the unhelpful impacts of having free-flowing marijuana nearby.

Between the start of September and the middle of November, Powell police cited 29 people for drug-related offenses, mostly after traffic stops. That included 34 citations relating to the use of marijuana (compared to seven relating to meth, four to prescription drugs and two for cocaine).

“That’s huge numbers for a community the size of Powell,” Eckerdt said at a Dec. 16 gathering of the Park County Coalition Against Substance Abuse.

He said police have noticed people with larger quantities of marijuana in the area as well.

“We’re seeing it here,” Eckerdt said of the Colorado weed.

Attorneys general in both Oklahoma and Nebraska sued the state of Colorado last month over the increases in marijuana that Colorado’s legalization has brought to their states.

Part of the reason for the coalition’s discussion of marijuana laws is the Wyoming Legislature’s upcoming session.

It’s likely that lawmakers will be asked to consider legalizing at least some forms of marijuana for medical purposes and/or to significantly reduce the criminal penalties for possessing the substance.

Meanwhile, the Wyoming chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Wyoming Cannabis Activists each hope to bypass lawmakers and put forms of marijuana legalization directly in the hands of state voters as 2016 ballot initiatives, the Casper Star-Tribune recently reported.

NORML says on its website that, based on deaths, marijuana is far less dangerous than legal alcohol and tobacco and that legalizing the drug can create a safer market and save money that’s now spent arresting and detaining its possessors and growers. The drug’s sale can also be taxed when it’s legalized: Colorado Department of Revenue data says the state collected roughly $36.5 million off marijuana sales and licenses between July and October.

A University of Wyoming phone survey conducted in the fall found 72 percent of state residents support allowing the use of marijuana if it’s prescribed by a doctor, while finding that only 35 percent of state residents support legalizing recreational use of the drug.

Local legislators generally haven’t shown any openness to legalization (See related story below).

Eckerdt is among those firmly opposed.

“There’s so much more to this than, ‘It’s harmless and it’s a good money-maker for the state of Colorado,’” the police chief said.

He views marijuana as a “gateway” to more dangerous substances.

“Not everybody who smokes marijuana is going to move on to hardcore illicit drugs, but in 27 years, I have never arrested somebody for meth, for cocaine (or) for heroin that has not smoked marijuana in the beginning,” Eckerdt said. “So there is still a common denominator there.”

He presented data from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (a regional drug enforcement task force) saying that as Colorado has eased restrictions on marijuana use, it’s experienced increases in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, fatal crashes and DUI arrests involving the drug.

Eckerdt said there have also been “drastic” increases in crime, more black market sales and more homeless people whom he said travel to Colorado to smoke the drug.

Jacob Sullum, a senior editor for the libertarian magazine Reason, has criticized the report cited by Eckerdt as distorting Colorado’s experience.

For example, Sullum pointed out that while the report cites a “57 percent increase in emergency room visits related to marijuana,” a footnote clarifies that it’s an increase in the times marijuana was mentioned or found in the patient and “that does not necessarily imply marijuana was the cause of the emergency admission or hospitalization.”

It wasn’t mentioned at the meeting, but Powell became a significant part of the discussion about Colorado’s marijuana regulations in March, when a Northwest College student became intoxicated from a marijuana cookie and jumped to his death at a Denver hotel. The 19-year-old man’s death was frequently mentioned in national media outlets last spring and fall as Colorado officials examined whether they need further restrictions on the sale of marijuana edibles.

In an interview published online on Wednesday, Ron Kammerzell, senior director of enforcement at Colorado Department of Revenue, told Al Jazeera America that edibles had been the biggest challenge in legalizing marijuana.

“We really didn’t anticipate we’d have the challenges with possible overconsumption of edibles on the recreational market,” Kammerzell said.

Don’t expect to see local lawmakers leading a charge to reform the state’s marijuana laws in the upcoming session. In fact, expect the opposite.

Rep. Sam Krone, a Cody Republican and a deputy Park County prosecutor, plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit the Wyoming Legislature from changing the state’s marijuana laws in the next three years. The time between now and then would be spent studying the changes other states have experienced to their revenues, general health and crime rates after legalizing the marijuana for recreational or medical purposes or by lessening the penalties for possessing the drug.

“Let’s not do anything in Wyoming (in the short term); let’s see how this is affecting other states,” Krone, an opponent of legalization, said of his philosophy.

Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, plans to sign on as a co-sponsor of Krone’s bill.

“That will be a good way to calm it down,” he said last month.

— CJ Baker