One of the reasons why Colorado regulators cap marijuana production is to prevent a huge surplus of marijuana. If there was a huge surplus of marijuana, then it would be much easier for those in the illicit drug trade to smuggle it out of the state. Although this rule has done a decent job of preventing organized crime from smuggling cannabis, citizens are either intentionally or accidentally taking marijuana over state lines every single day. One small Nebraska town is starting to feel the strain of the influx of marijuana and is asking for stiffer penalties to curb the behavior.
The town of Sidney, Nebraska, has a population of 7,000 and is located 10 miles from the Colorado border. Police Chief B.J. Wilkinson spoke with KHAS-TV in Hastings, Nebraska, to explain how Colorado’s marijuana legalization has put huge strain on his department. According to Wilkinson, five out of every 10 traffic stops results in a marijuana arrest. Due to officers having to show up in court for those arrests, the department blew through its overtime budget within the first six months of 2014.
Because of these excessive arrests, Wilkinson and other law enforcement agencies in the state are pushing for steeper penalties for possession. “You know if you can smoke marijuana and walk out of court with $120 fine and nothing else that may not be as much of an impact as if you walk out of court with a $1,200 dollar fine,” Wilkinson said. It is unclear as to whether Wilkinson is aware that the federal government has been trying to do the same thing for the last 40 years to no effect.
On the other side of the border in Sedgwick, Colorado, circumstances are aggravated by the appearance of a marijuana dispensary, called Sedgwick Alternative Relief, seven miles from the border. In a town of 150, dispensary owner Michael Kollarits does not expect too many locals to be customers as much as passersby. Despite the proximity to the border and his out-of-town clientele, Kollarits says his intention isn’t to enable cross-state smuggling.
“We said, No. 1, do not ask me for advice on how to take this out of this state. I don’t want to taint (my business) by coming across as some low-life drug dealer …,” he told USA Today. “That’s the complete opposite of what we want to do. We want to be the first stop people make in Colorado, not the last.” As admirable as his goals may be, that is definitely not the result.
It is completely understandable how Nebraska’s law enforcement would want to keep Colorado’s cannabis out its state; and it is a shame that most of their budget has been used to enforce a petty crime with light penalties. However, increasing the penalties for marijuana possession would only put more strain on resources already stretched thin.
A $1,200 fine might make some people think twice before crossing the border with marijuana, but it will not stop everyone. Most people often think they are the exception to the rule, so even if most people leaving Colorado with cannabis get arrested; most individuals would still think that they are special and can avoid arrest. Consequently, be prepared to see more people in jail cells, more court appearances, and more small Nebraska towns wasting money.
Unless your want border check points around the state of Colorado, there is no way to stop this problem. The obvious answer is to decriminalize marijuana and get rid of the court appearances. If you can’t fight the influx of marijuana, why waste resources on it? It is possible that marijuana is going to federally legal within the decade, so law enforcement is better off fighting real crime. In 10 years, no one will remember the time the police “courageously” stopped some college kids from bringing cannabis into Nebraska; instead of fighting the inevitable, why not shift resources and actually do some good?