Legal weed in Colorado has been a boon to many people: stoners, the marijuana industry, tax collectors, late-night diners, convenience stores. Even some of the state’s neighbors are excited to see a new source of easy weed right next door.
But not everyone.
Police and anti-pot forces in Nebraska complain they’re seeing ever-increasing amounts of the drug cross their border every day. Pot is illegal there, and some local officials in Nebraska are up in arms over what they see as their neighbor’s great sin.
Sheriff John Jenson is in charge of law enforcement in Cheyenne County, a rural area on the Nebraska-Colorado border. He watched the election results in 2012, when Colorado voters chose to legalize recreational weed, and decided America had just lost a battle in the war on drugs.
“I felt just sick,” Jenson said. “The drug war in this country used to be along the U.S.-Mexican border. Now it’s eight miles away.”
Perhaps missing the irony that he was talking about a substance that has never killed anyone, isn’t generally known to cause violent behavior, and has few negative side effects, Jenson implied that legalization has been an entirely bad experience in Colorado – even though polls consistently show residents there still support it, almost six months after the first recreational weed went on sale.
“They passed a law and didn’t give a second thought to how it would impact surrounding states,” Jenson said. “If they want Colorado to be the High State and live up to all of those John Denver songs, they can keep it in their four walls. I don’t need Colorado’s problems in Nebraska.”
A number of police officials in Nebraska said they’ve seen dramatic increases in the amount of pot coming through their areas in recent months. Some of it stays, leading to greater marijuana use in the area.
“It has just devastated these smaller agencies,” said Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, a law enforcement network in four Western states. “The marijuana laws [in Colorado] were supposed to eliminate the black market. But in effect they have become the black market.”
Between 2005 and 2012, when recreational pot was legalized, the flow of weed into other states increased 400 percent, according to a study by Gorman’s group. It is illegal under Colorado law, and the laws of surrounding states, to carry pot across state lines.
Still, police in other areas have reported little to no difference in serious marijuana offenses in recent months. Though some state officials have complained about legalization, none of Colorado’s neighbors have produced state-level statistics demonstrating that pot is flooding across their borders.
In the City of Sidney, located in the Nebraska Panhandle north of Colorado, Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson said he has seen a 20 percent increase in marijuana arrests since last year. The chief openly confirmed his officers keep tabs on known marijuana users and referred to cannabis use as if it were a major crime.
“We’ve always had people who used marijuana, and we pretty much knew who they were,” Wilkinson said. “The difference now is availability. We are finding people we never would have suspected have become recreational users. You walk by people on the street and you can smell it. You can smell it in the aisles of Wal-Mart.”