POLITICS

Keep Your Legal Weed In Colorado, Say Cops In Neighboring States

05/28/2014 06:27 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2014

While a majority of Coloradans continue to enjoy and support recreational marijuana legalization, some law enforcement officials in the surrounding states don't appear to share the same enthusiasm.

According to a new report from the Los Angeles Times, law enforcement officials in Nebraska counties that share a border with Colorado are frustrated over what they say has been a sharp rise in marijuana trafficking busts from the Centennial State.

"They passed a law and didn't give a second thought to how it would impact surrounding states," Cheyenne County sheriff John Jenson told the newspaper. "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."

Authorities from all of Colorado's neighboring states -- Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, none of which have legalized recreational marijuana -- have issued warnings that anyone crossing their state lines with marijuana would face prosecution. It's unclear to what extent this is actually a problem: While some authorities in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas have reported an uptick in marijuana-related busts, different police in those states and others say they haven't seen any new issues arise.

In March, for example, Capt. Scott Harrington of the Kansas Highway Patrol told USA Today that he's seen little change since marijuana was legalized in Colorado.

"I've heard people saying it's becoming an epidemic, and it's certainly not," Harrington said. "It's status quo. We're just not seeing something that turns our heads."

In March, Wyoming state trooper Karl Germain told USA Today that he and his colleagues had not seen any problems coming from the neighboring state. Three weeks later, Sgt. Steve Townsend of the Wyoming Highway Patrol told the Colorado Springs Gazette that in fact, Wyoming police had seen some increase in marijuana activity.

"It's always baffling when law enforcement officials speak out against regulating marijuana, as opposed to keeping it in an entirely uncontrolled underground market," Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Huffington Post. "Marijuana has been widely trafficked throughout the country for decades. Colorado is actually taking a step to actually control marijuana and reduce that type of illicit activity. Law enforcement officials fighting to maintain prohibition are in effect fighting to keep cartels and traffickers in business."

Meanwhile, many voters in Colorado's border states support marijuana legalization. Last year, polls in New Mexico and Arizona found that a majority of voters there were in favor of legalizing cannabis. In Oklahoma, state Sen. Constance Johnson filed a bill this legislative session to legalize recreational marijuana. There is growing support for both medical and recreational marijuana legalization in Wyoming, and in March, Utah legalized medical marijuana for limited use by state residents with epilepsy.

Nationally, a recent Gallup poll found a majority of Americans favoring marijuana legalization for the first time in history.

Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, although the first sales didn't begin until Jan. 1, 2014. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2000. Under Colorado law, it's illegal to transport marijuana outside of state lines or drive while under the influence.

Experts say there's not yet enough data to tell whether Colorado's experiment with legal pot has truly caused a surge in trafficking to neighboring states. And if there has been an increase, it may simply be an extension of a nearly decade-long trend. A 2013 report from the federally funded Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program found that between 2005 and 2012, there was a 407 percent increase in seizures of marijuana headed to other states. And back in 2012, Colorado post offices had already reported climbing numbers in marijuana packages intended to be mailed out of the state.

"If police are interested in maintaining public safety, they should be looking out for people speeding, driving drunk and committing serious crimes, not adults possessing small amounts of a substance less harmful than alcohol," Tvert told HuffPost. "The bigger fireworks brought illegally into Colorado from Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska have probably caused far more harm than marijuana ever has. I hope they're just as concerned about the dangerous products headed out of their states."

Also on HuffPost:

27 Reasons Why U.S. Shouldn't Lead War On Drugs
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