Pubdate: Sun, 27 Jul 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Marc Fisher, in Sedgwick, Colo.
Page: A1


Legalized Pot Is Good for Jobs and Tax Revenue in Colorado, but
Visitors WHO Come to Buy a Takeaway Supply Become Criminals on Exiting
the State

An old man with a snow-white beard bounded into the double-wide
trailer that houses the only pot shop in eastern Colorado. He wore bib
overalls over a white T-shirt, and a huge grin. He was a farmer from
Nebraska, and he was 78 years old. "How much can I get for $100?" he

Ray-no last name, he said nervously - bought a couple of grams, went
across the street to show his wife what he'd scored, and scurried back
to the sales counter.

"Forget something?" asked the clerk, a schoolteacher who is spending
the summer selling marijuana. "More weed!" Ray squealed with glee.
He's been smoking since he was 12, "and I will till the day I die," he
said, and now Ray was about to get back in his truck and drive his
first legal purchase 322 miles east, back to his Nebraska farm. The
trip would make him a criminal, because although recreational
marijuana became legal in Colorado this year, it most assuredly is not
on the other side of the state line.

In Goodland, Kan., 20 miles from Colorado, four of the 18 men in
Sheriff Burton Pianalto's jail are there because they brought
marijuana across the state line. By the end of April, Pianalto already
had spent half his meals budget for the year. He's not sure how he'll
pay for enough Lean Cuisine boxes to make it to December. It runs him
$45 a day to house some kid from Minnesota or Illinois who bought weed
legally in Colorado and started driving it back east on Interstate 70
to sell to friends. In Chappell, Neb., 13 miles from the marijuana
store in Sedgwick, Sheriff Adam Hayward has blown through his overtime
budget and increased his jail spending threefold in three years -
almost entirely because of increased marijuana arrests.

Not far away, in Scotts Bluff County, Neb., Sheriff Mark Overman says
Colorado is exporting trouble to its neighbors. "They're promoting
marijuana tourism," he said. "The message is: Come to Colorado, smoke
the marijuana. Then people bring some home. We don't go after it - we
don't have anybody sitting on the border - but this Colorado marijuana
is very potent, very aromatic, and we often trip over it if somebody's
speeding and we pull them over."

State lines can be symbols of divisions over values and cultures.
Abortions were once legal in some states but not in others. Fireworks
are okay on one side of some state borders but verboten just a mile
away. Laws governing liquor sales vary widely by state. So it should
be no shock that as attitudes toward marijuana have shifted, fault
lines have appeared along state boundaries.

On the Great Plains east of the Rockies, a three-hour drive from
Denver's profusion of pot shops - 340 medical and recreational at last
count - Colorado's bold social experiment is confounding parents who
have to explain to their children why this alluring but troubling
substance is legal just down the road, a state line - and a cultural
divide - away.

The same policy decisions that liberated pot smokers in Colorado are
filling tiny rural jails in Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming. "Every time
we stop somebody, that's taking up my deputy's time with your Colorado
pot," Overman said. "We have to pay overtime, pay the prosecutor, pay
to incarcerate them, pay for their defense if they're indigent.
Colorado's taxing it, but everybody else is paying the price."

When the wind is right, Sedgwick's entire downtown- all one block of
it - reeks of weed, a sign that fresh tax revenue is growing in the
rear of the trailer that houses Mike Kollarits's weed shop, Sedgwick
Alternative Relief.

When Kollarits finishes renovating the old grocery store on Main
Avenue in a couple of months, the second-biggest building in town,
empty for a generation, will become a sprawling marijuana emporium
with a sleek new glass front. Then he'll remove the trailer and put up
three greenhouses, where his product will grow. By the time he's done,
Kollarits's operations will take up as much space as all the other
businesses in town combined.

Kollarits, 45, who built houses in the Chicago suburbs until the
recession sucked the life out of that endeavor, bought his property in
Sedgwick from Lupe Pena-Casias. Casias owns the bank building across
the street, a grand old pile of stone that she has lovingly converted
into a bed and breakfast with 15 lace-drenched rooms and the only
Mexican buffet within an hour's drive. Rooms go for $25 a night, cash

Casias was one of the first people in Sedgwick who saw gold in weed.
Then on the town board, Casias has long believed that Sedgwick - 147
residents, a bar and a hair salon - could flourish once more. The
town, long an outlier in a region of conservative farmers and hunters,
is home to a small colony of Buddhists, descendants of Japanese
immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad, and
left-leaning refugees from the Denver area.

In the 19th century, Sedgwick County was a crossroads for cowboys and
Indians, known for its raucous saloons and gambling houses. But in
2012, when Coloradans voted 55 percent to 45 percent to legalize
recreational marijuana (the state had approved medical marijuana in
2000), Sedgwick County voted 797 to 522 to reject the idea.

The tiny town of Sedgwick, burdened by a $28,000 deficit and a
microscopic tax base, had a different idea. Once pot became legal
statewide, each Colorado municipality could decide whether to join the
experiment. In April, at a special town meeting, residents voted 27 to
4 to allow recreational pot sales, with a $5-per-transaction fee going
to the town.

"I'm really straight-laced," said Casias, 60, who spent most of her
career teaching English to Spanish-speaking schoolchildren. "But we're
a rebellious little town, and we had no money to pave the street or
buy a new grader. We lost our school. Our post office is down to
half-time. We were just dying. I just thought we had to do something,
even though I don't smoke marijuana - never have."

Casias now has plans to renovate one of her buildings to open a
munchies shop across from the weed store. Still, there are times when
she feels a bit wary.

"I built a wall between my living room and the front of the inn
because I am a little worried about strangers coming in now," she
said. "Maybe I should put a lock on the front door. I don't know. But
the amount of money the pot people are spending here is amazing.
Sedgwick is going to be big, you'll see."

"Oh, please." That's the former sheriff of Sedgwick County, Rick
Ingwersen, who happens to be Casias's new boyfriend and has just
walked into the inn for a glass of apple-cranberry juice. Ingwersen,
grumbling about people he once put in jail on marijuana charges who've
become legal pot entrepreneurs, isn't exactly bullish on Sedgwick's
weed-based renaissance. But as one of the town's biggest property
owners, he now sees the situation from both sides.

"I've got too many boarded-up buildings," he said. Then a chuckle:
"I've been waiting patiently for weed to come in and save the town."
He bought properties in the 1980s, when talk of legalizing casino
gambling brought a momentary burst of optimism to Sedgwick. But
gambling never arrived. The town kept sliding.

Marijuana, which grows wild on many farms in the area - locals call it
ditch weed - "is a way of life around here, sure, but it's going to
backfire in time," Ingwersen said. "Everybody else around here is too
willing to roll over. I think I'll stick around and fight for a while."

Whereupon he and Casias took to RD's, Sedgwick's bar, two doors down
from the pot shop and the only place in town where people are out and
about after dark. The watering hole, dim and dank, serves beer -
low-alcohol beer. Sedgwick might be okay with pot, but full-strength
suds aren't allowed here.

In the first four months of this first year of recreational marijuana
sales, Colorado collected $11 million in taxes, and $7 million more
from sales of medical pot. The money goes to build schools and help
localities. But not a penny made it to Deuel County, because Deuel is
just north of the state line, in Nebraska.

It's close enough that Cori Koehler's kids could ride their bikes over
to Sedgwick's pot shop.

"Really, any kid that wants it could almost walk there," she said.
Koehler, 34, owns a hair salon on the main street in Chappell, Deuel
County's seat. Since marijuana became legal across the line, she's
seen the drug busts out on Interstate 80, people handcuffed and
standing in the ditches along the Nebraska roadbed.

"I watch 'Intervention' and all those drug shows on TV, and it's
interesting, but I don't want that coming here," Koehler said. Her
children are still little, "but we play Pee Wee ball over there in
Sedgwick, and they're going to see weed or hear about it, and then
they're going to ask what that is and they'll be curious. Why do I
need to have to get into that? My oldest, he's 13, and when you're 13,
you should not know about those things."

It is for people such as Koehler that Sheriff Hayward wants to get
something done about the clash of laws at the state line. His three
deputies have always made weed busts, but the number and character
have changed markedly this year. Officers arrested 30 drivers on
felony marijuana charges last year, all out on the highway ( just
1,800 people live in the county); this year, there were already 32
such arrests through June.

Last year, county deputies made 15 arrests for driving under the
influence of marijuana. This year, 12 already, triple the number of
arrests for drunken driving.

The marijuana they seize now is almost entirely from Colorado - the
packages often still have the labels of Denver pot shops ("Grown in
Colorado / Always Buy Colorado") - rather than from Mexican cartels.
Colorado's weed is now the heart of the black market in neighboring
states, authorities say.

Sheriffs in Kansas and Nebraska say they could make far more pot
arrests than they do. Hayward's officers patrol the interstate only
about five hours a week. Even then, they say, they aren't making any
special effort to sniff out Colorado pot.

"Why you would drive 90 when you're carrying bags full of weed is
beyond me, but people do," Hayward said.

Joel Jay, the only defense lawyer in Deuel County, has found that many
people who bring marijuana back into Nebraska are buying it mainly
because it's available.

"They don't think of themselves as committing a crime," he said.
"Obviously they know it's illegal here, because otherwise why did you
go to Colorado? But after a few days there, you sort of lose
perspective. It's right next to the doughnut shop, and you start
thinking, ' This can't be too bad.' "

Marijuana is becoming a constant in Jay's work, and not just in
possession arrests on the highway. In juvenile court one day this
month, he and the judge struggled to figure out whether Nebraska
should take custody of a child whose parents had been ordered not to
use illegal drugs. The parents had moved to Colorado, where they were
smoking marijuana - legal there, but a violation of the judge's orders
in Nebraska.

Unlike its Plains neighbors, Nebraska was part of the 1970s wave of 11
states that decriminalized possession of small amounts of weed. People
found with less than an ounce get a ticket and face a fine of up to
$300. But Nebraska's law couldn't have anticipated the market that
would develop in Colorado, where hugely popular marijuana-infused
chocolate bars weigh enough that someone caught in Nebraska with a
couple of candies easily tops the one-pound threshold that triggers a
charge of intent to distribute, a felony.

A couple of weeks ago, Hayward's deputies stopped a car in which three
men were found with three ounces of marijuana buds and an 18-ounce
bottle of cannabis-based hand lotion. With just the buds, the
travelers would have gotten off with a ticket. But the lotion - which
contains small amounts of THC, the chemical responsible for
marijuana's psychological effects - weighed more than a pound, so the
sheriff could have charged them with felony intent to distribute and
locked them up.

"I cut them a break because it was lotion, and just wrote it as a
misdemeanor," the sheriff said. "I can't afford to fill the jail with
these cases."

Hayward, 34, wants Nebraska to raise fines for possessing an ounce or
more of marijuana, but politicians have shown little interest in the
idea. He and other sheriffs along the border also want Colorado to
help pay the added costs of enforcing marijuana laws.

One Colorado legislator, state Rep. Amy Stephens, a Republican who
opposed legalization, agrees that her state owes its neighbors some
recompense. She proposed dedicating part of the tax flow from pot
sales to help those states cover enforcement costs. Her bill went
nowhere. "But we need to have this discussion," Stephens said. "We
rushed into this so quickly that we didn't think about the impact of
edibles or the safety of children, or the impact on our neighbors."

Even Colorado sheriffs who agree with Stephens that legal weed was a
bad idea are not keen on sending money across state lines. "We're
seeing substantially more impaired drivers here, too," said Sedgwick
County Sheriff Randy Peck, "and we need to pay for that enforcement
here before we think about other states."

Minutes from Colorado, a frozen-food delivery man backed his truck up
to the Sherman County, Kan., jail garage, which doubles as the
prisoners' recreation room. Every stack of TV dinners represents
another blow to Sheriff Pianalto's budget. Legalized marijuana has
meant a doubling of possession arrests in this county of 6,000 people.

Pianalto, 51, has seen marijuana use derail promising teens, but he's
also been moved by stories of the relief that weed provides to some
cancer patients.

"Look, I know prohibition doesn't work," he said. "But I also know
freewheeling, letting everyone do what they want, doesn't work,
either. I don't know the answer. The problem is that now I talk to the
kids in schools about marijuana and they just blow me off. I had a
third-grader last month start arguing with me, saying it doesn't hurt
anything. He was using the same slogans he saw on the Colorado TV ads
for legalization."

Mike Kollarits needed a fresh start, and Colorado offered a frontier.
His construction and snowplowing businesses in Chicago were laid low
by the recession, and a buddy told Kollarits about the booming medical
marijuana business around Denver.

Four years ago, Kollarits, his wife, and their two teenage boys made
the move. Kollarits hadn't smoked pot since he was 26; his wife - who
asked not to be named because she is a special education teacher whose
employer might disapprove of her selling weed during school breaks -
had never been into marijuana.

Their medical pot shop in a Denver suburb got off to a strong start,
attracting a mostly older crowd. When they heard customers talk about
using marijuana to wean themselves off addictive prescription pain
pills, the couple came to believe that they were not just making a
very good living but that they also were actually doing some good.

Then Kollarits heard about Sedgwick and the chance to invest in the
only pot shop in the eastern half of the state. Situated between two
interstate highways that feed 15,000 cars into Colorado every day,
Sedgwick "had everything except social interaction," Kollarits said.
To say the town is quiet wouldn't be quite right; cows low through the
night, and the doves' cooing makes certain that most people get an
early start. This is not Chicago.

Kollarits has been too busy to mind the isolation. He spends at least
half his time in the hamlet, building the new store, staffing the
trailer. He's hired seven people - including two retired women from
Denver who are Buddhists, love weed and delight in being called "the
pot ladies" when they visit the diner out by the interstate. Kollarits
expects to double his staff this fall. He's on track to quadruple the
town's tax revenue.

But in a town where the arrival of a stranger at the bar is an
occasion for an extended group stare, Kollarits had to allay some fears.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Glen Sundquist, for example, worries that
the shop will tarnish the area's reputation. "A lot of people around
here don't change their minds," he said. But when Sundquist's sister
was dying of cancer, someone brought her marijuana-laced cookies; she
never did eat them, but he thought it might not have been so bad if
she had. Still, having the pot shop seems wrong: "People say it's
getting more accepted, but just because somebody else does something
doesn't mean I have to like it."

Some of Kollarits's new neighbors "think marijuana destroys lives, and
they were clear about that," the merchant said. "But I'm a businessman
with a family. I grew up in the Baptist church. People were surprised
that I'm not a stoner or an inveterate drug dealer. Individual by
individual, there's a sea change in attitude. Now they come up to me
at the bar and ask how it's going."

He's had customers from all 50 states; well more than half are 50 or
older. His first customers were a retired couple from Iowa who asked
if they could get an AARP discount (sorry, no). About a third of his
buyers come from Nebraska, and nearly two-thirds are from out of state.

But he insists that "my goal is not to sell to Nebraskans. Our goal is
to catch all the people coming to Colorado from New York or Chicago."

A woman in Sedgwick complained to Kollarits that "I don't want my kids
thinking marijuana is what saved this town."

The shopkeeper was unapologetic. "It used to be illegal," he told her.
"Now it isn't. That's the way things work."

Kollarits understands that some parents across the state line accuse
him of complicating their lives. "But if they're talking to their kids
sooner, that's a good thing," he said. "In my house, we told them
everything. Now, I know my 19-year-old smokes weed. He told me. But we
have rules - no smoking in my house. Every parent should have rules."

Last month, Kollarits drove over toNebraska to seeHayward, the
sheriff. They spoke for an hour and a half, largely past each other.
Kollarits told the sheriff he's aiming at people coming into Colorado,
not people leaving the state. Hayward wasn't impressed. Whether the
buyers are coming or going, the shop in Sedgwick is aimed at
out-ofstaters, and that's not right, he said.

The sheriff agreed the weed he's been confiscating is mostly from the
Denver area; Hayward's deputies have arrested only one person with
marijuana from Sedgwick.

It wouldn't make sense for anyone to come to Sedgwick to stock up for
resale back home, Kollarits said: "The truth is, you can buy illicit
marijuana anywhere in the United States cheaper than what I sell."

But he is unabashed about his desire to capitalize on his location.
"We're going to be the next Amsterdam," he said. "Being the first
store you hit in Colorado is our business model."

That's what galls the sheriff: "It's all about the money, I get that.
That guy's brought jobs to the community, and now they have a tax
base. But he's getting people from Nebraska and states east of us. He
takes four hours off their trip to Denver, and they're getting caught
when they didn't set out to be criminals. What they're doing in
Sedgwick, really, is selling out kids' futures."
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