Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jun 2014
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2014 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes


SEDGWICK, Colo. - A marijuana store owner this week opened up a new
frontier in the ongoing cat-and-mouse border war between pot buyers
and police officers across the Nebraska state line just six miles away.

Sedgwick Alternative Relief opened for legal marijuana sales Saturday
in this town of about 150 people tucked into Colorado's far northeast
corner, more than 170 miles from Denver.

Police officers in small Nebraska towns along the Colorado border say
they've seen a massive influx of marijuana flowing into and through
their communities, particularly along the east-west Interstate 80.
They say it's now only natural to expect even more pot will find its
way across the border, where it remains illegal.

"He's probably going to be the busiest guy in Colorado," said Deuel
County Sheriff Adam Hayward from his office in Chappell, Neb., about
15 miles from the new store. "For people coming in from the east, he's
basically cornering the market, cutting four hours off a trip because
they don't have to go to Denver."

As states across the country increasingly legalize medical marijuana,
and consider legalizing recreational marijuana, Hayward said the last
few years provide solid lessons for the accompanying challenges.

Felony drug arrests in Chappell - just 7 miles north of the Colorado
border along a dusty dirt road - have skyrocketed 400% in three years,
and deputies say they are seeing large amounts of marijuana moving
through their area, Hayward said.

Last fall, Hayward and another deputy stopped a man for speeding on
I-80 and discovered the previously convicted felon's minivan was
stacked with totes and buckets stuffed with 75 pounds of marijuana,
assorted pot products and a loaded handgun. For cops such as Hayward,
that arrest and many others prove that Colorado's legalization is
having impacts far beyond its own borders.

"Is it all coming from Colorado? Hell no. It's coming from all over.
But I can tell you our numbers are double what they were last year,"
said BJ Wilkinson, the police chief in Sidney, Neb., a town of about
7,000, which is about 10 miles from the Colorado border. "Twice as
often now, when we walk up to a car, we can smell burned marijuana."

Colorado law limits non-resident sales to no more than a quarter of an
ounce at a time, and bars anyone from possessing more than one ounce.
Wilkinson and Hayward say the offenders who drive that pot across
state lines are clogging their small court systems and jails, not
Colorado's. Legalization proponents have long argued that eliminating
penalties for possessing such a widely used drug makes more sense than
demonizing it.

Wilkinson said his officers are on track to make twice as many
marijuana-related arrests this year as they did in 2013, when there
were 35. The federally funded Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug
Trafficking Area team says it has documented a 13,000% increase in
marijuana seizures in its four-state operating area from 2005 to 2012.
Those statistics were gathered before recreational sales of marijuana
became legal in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2014.

om Gorman, who runs the task force, said many dispensaries are selling
"out the back door" to buyers willing to risk getting caught in return
for doubling their money.

"It's the perfect storm for it to happen," said Gorman. "Legalized
grows. Legalized sales. And phenomenal quality."

Not every state is seeing the same kinds of trends as Nebraska. In
Wyoming, the highway patrol has seen seizures drop from more than
1,000 pounds of marijuana in 2012 to 551 pounds last year, and has
seized about 260 pounds this year. In Farmington, N.M., across
Colorado's southern border, police report no significant increase in
marijuana arrests or citations.

Back in Sedgwick, marijuana store owner Michael Kollarits said he and
his small staff are going out of their way to tell non-residents to
consume their pot in Colorado.

"We said, No. 1, do not ask me for advice on how to take this out of
this state. And No. 2, if you do, prepare to give up your firearms,
give up your right to vote," said Kollarits. "I don't want to taint
(my business) by coming across as some low-life drug dealer ...
working on cross-border trafficking. That's the complete opposite of
what we want to do."

Kollarits said he hopes to work with Hayward to track
marijuana-seizure trends. Hayward said he and his deputies will
probably begin more frequently patrolling the rural back roads of the
Colorado-Nebraska border to intercept smugglers.

"Some idiot is going to do it, and some idiot is going to get caught,
but it's not going to happen because we didn't tell them it was a
really, really bad idea," said Kollarits. "We want to be the first
stop people make in Colorado, not the last."
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