When Colorado made recreational marijuana use legal, neighboring states were quick to predict lasting damage would be done by this flouting of federal law. “It’s still illegal here,” they sued briefly, before being booted back to reality by the Supreme Court.
“In passing and enforcing Amendment 64,” the lawsuit said, “the state of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control measures enacted by the United States Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining [their] own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”
It has turned out to be far less of a “stress” than they imagined. More than a few law enforcement agencies have been happy to place patrol cars at the border and snag alleged pot purchasers as they exit the state. This hasn’t always worked out well for them, but nothing about these enforcement actions suggests law enforcement (part of the criminal justice system) was too bothered by the influx of drug busts.
Of course, it’s kind of difficult to nail someone for a fully-legal purchase. Buying from an authorized weed dealer isn’t like buying from someone 16 degrees removed from a Mexican cartel. The purchase is legal. Any travelling outside the legal boundaries isn’t. But the fact that marijuana can be purchased legally in some states has led to shifting attitudes both inside and outside of law enforcement. It’s no longer considered de facto criminal activity worthy of punishment.
Court decisions have played a small part in this forced loosening of drug enforcement efforts. One court told cops they couldn’t presume everyone with a Colorado license plate was participating in drug trafficking. Another court informed eager locals they couldn’t arrest (and seize assets from) people traveling to Colorado, even if they clearly stated they intended to purchase marijuana while there. The criminal nexus actually had to be in the jurisdiction covered by the law enforcement agency involved and “might do something illegal in the future within this jurisdiction” isn’t probable cause for an arrest.
Even without these court decisions, law enforcement is finding there’s not much point in panicking about Colorado’s drug tourism industry. Kansas Attorney General Derek Smith wisely decided to hold off on boarding the Amendment 64 lawsuit bandwagon until he had some evidence of actual harm in hand. Turns out, he couldn’t really find any.
[L]aw enforcement was reporting fewer – not more – marijuana-related offenses. This was confusing to Schmidt, who said he’d heard from law enforcement that Colorado marijuana was king.
So he invoked a 19th-century law to survey law enforcement agencies. And he received a huge response: 390 law enforcement agencies and district attorneys painted the first large-scale picture of the impact of Colorado’s legalization on Kansas.
The early results suggest it is having a big impact, but it may not all be negative.
The amount of marijuana being confiscated appears to be dropping quickly. But the potency of the marijuana is increasing.
It’s good to know it’s no longer just the Drug War increasing drug potency. Legalizing drugs appears to have the same effect, only without the corresponding drain on public funds. Even more interesting is the attitude law enforcement is taking, even with a potentially unlimited number of drug busts available. The issue of legality/illegality may appear black/white, but government employees tend to respect government entities, even when they do something like legalize a drug that often acts as a revenue stream for drug warriors.
In some jurisdictions, law enforcement are no longer enforcing marijuana laws much, and even when they do, it has become difficult to win convictions. Users may receive a fine in one county, probation or jail in another and told to move along in others.
Some officers won’t issue citations for marijuana possession, according to the report.
“Our local deputies and sheriff tell me they stop at least five cars a day with personal-use marijuana inside and absolutely refuse to issue a citation or report for it,” according to the district attorney’s office in Clark County. “They simply confiscate it and send them on their way.”
Some of this relaxation may be due to diminishing returns. More prosecutions are being undone by local juries composed of people who no longer believe firing up the occasional joint to be a criminal act worthy of jail time.
Some juries are refusing to hand out marijuana convictions.
“I have had a number of potential jurors during voir dire opine their belief that marijuana should be legal,” according to the district attorney in Labette County. “Oddly enough, these statements were made in non-marijuana cases.”
This is true for young and old, black and white, according to the district attorney in Leavenworth County. The elderly say it should be allowed for medicinal purposes, while young jurors tell the DA it’s “less serious than tobacco or alcohol, and they oppose the use of tax funds to prosecute marijuana cases.”
Of course, there are still some district attorneys who wish the rest of the criminal justice system would take their marijuana possession prosecutions more seriously, complaining that lax sentences have resulted in the “absconding” of dangerous pot purchasers to their home states. More pragmatically, those in charge of housing inmates are relieved more cases are dead-ending as they’d rather use their limited space to house actual dangerous felons, rather than Kansans caught on a weed run.
If anything, the information collected shows a more relaxed approach to enforcement would see nearly no appreciable harm come to the state of Kansas. Law enforcement resources aren’t infinite and they should be focused on criminal acts with victims, rather than people legally purchasing a drug for recreational use. Unfortunately, despite the lack of evidence supporting theories of harm, state AG Derek Smith still holds out hope that he’ll find something to justify a legal weed lawsuit.
“Here you have our sister state – we love them, we get along great with them most of the time,” Schmidt said. “But doggone it, they have done something that federal law says they may not do, and it’s Kansans who are paying a price for that.”
Any price Kansans are paying for Colorado’s marijuana sins are being imposed on them by overzealous enforcement. A legal distributor in the next state makes it pretty difficult to build a local, fully-criminal marijuana distributorship that can compete on price or potency. Playing hardball with drug tourists does nothing but blow taxpayer dollars on looking out-of-touch and ineffectual.