Colorado's Legal Weed Is Harming Nearby States So Much They Can Barely Produce Evidence Of Harm

from the 'it's-mostly-an-existential-harm,-I-guess...' dept

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.

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Comments on “Colorado's Legal Weed Is Harming Nearby States So Much They Can Barely Produce Evidence Of Harm”

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Pixelation says:

Re: Re:

“They simply confiscate it and send them on their way.”

Back in High school a friend had just picked up a 1/4 oz of Hawaiian. He went to the park to smoke it. The cops caught him, confiscated it. Then they got in the patrol car, rolled up the windows and proceeded to smoke some in front of him. Better than dealing with court, I suppose.

Anonymous Coward says:

So where were the passed petitions in favor of legalizing marijuana? Why is it that when the government passes laws that no one wants the people must then bear the burden of overturning those laws (ie: with petitions).

Is it adjacent states or is it just their politicians, regulators, and law enforcement that are complaining about marijuana. If those states are the ones complaining where are their passed petitions in favor of banning marijuana asking for the states to do more? Or is it just the politicians that are complaining because, frankly, if it’s only politicians and regulators complaining I’m going to tell them to get lost. This is supposed to be a democracy and if your citizens aren’t complaining about this (prove that they are, where are the passed petitions) I don’t want to hear it.

If anything it should be the other way around. If the government or anyone wants a lasting law they should put it on a ballot for people to sign and they should bear the burden of getting voters out there to sign it.

There should be a required minimum number of positive votes (as petitions do have a quorum) so that voters don’t have to bear the burden of voting against it if they don’t want it (ie: maybe a minimum of 20 percent of registered voters must vote in its favor but it must also pass by a 55 percent margin within those that vote if voter turnout is low. If more voters, say 25 percent of registered voters, vote in its favor then a 50+ percent margin is fine. This is just an example, not sure how it should really be done). The burden should always be on those that want a law to last to get voters out to vote and to get them to vote in favor of the law, it should never be placed on voters to get out and vote against a law or petition or to vote in favor of a petition to nullify a law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Oh, and as I stated before, it gets worse when you consider that there is no official binding petition process to invalidate laws at the federal level. IOW, the federal government can do whatever it wants without any regard for the will of the people. and what about international treaties and agreements, is there an official binding petition system at that level?

Some democracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

and if the citizens do pass a petition in favor of banning marijuana then I’m all in favor of it being banned wherever such petitions are passed. If you have a problem with it then you should have voted or move to someplace where it’s legal and vote there.

But what I do have a problem with is when politicians and government pass laws that no one wants and then expects everyone else to bear the burden of overturning those laws. That’s not democracy.

It’s actually an embarrassment to government when petitions that aim to nullify laws that government passes receive a large number and percentage of signatures and votes in their favor because it suggests that politicians are passing laws that the people don’t want and are hence not representing the republic and that the people must then bear the burden of undoing the damage the politicians have done. In which case why do we even need the politicians in the first place, they’re only going to pass laws no one wants and we must pick up the pieces of their mess. They’re supposed to represent us and the laws they pass should do so.

Unfortunately that’s not what I’m seeing at all and this is especially true of the federal government. They have almost no regard for what the people want. At least with the state governments petitions are being passed to overturn bad laws that bad politicians keep passing (ie: bad broadband/cable laws that limit competition and whatnot). What do we have at the federal level where there is no such binding petition system?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m all in favor of it being banned wherever such petitions are passed.

Then you are promoting the tyranny of the majority, and only half a step away from enabling theocratic rule. If it is not harming other people, it should not be illegal. Being under the influence and operating a vehicle, or otherwise putting other people at risk due to impaired decision making should be a crime. Please note the and, being under the influence in you own home should not be.

mrvco (profile) says:

Nothing new here. Since long before legalization, throw a mountain bike on your vehicle w/ Colorado plates and you’re probably going to get pulled over in neighboring states. I never had a problem in Utah or New Mexico, but Kansas and Northern Arizona troopers in particular always seemed interested in rifling through the loose change in your ash tray looking for… something.

bob says:

what are the risks?

I do support the legalization of marijuana, mainly for medical use, but if people want to smoke it recreationally then fine. just don’t smoke it where it will impact me or my family.

My concern though is in the potency. Potency levels are higher now then when Colorado first legalized marijuana. Not enough studies (I’m talking real in depth medical studies, not your uncle saying he smoked for years and is fine) have been done to determine the full effects of marijuana at different potency levels to truly determine the risk to humans.

Legalization is the first step to conducting those studies but I’m afraid society might be repeating the same mistakes it had with smoking cigarettes back in the early 1900s. At first people thought it was fine till studies linked it to cancer. Not saying marijuana will cause cancer but higher potency might bring unknown consequences that people need to first be aware of before the marijuana industry starts manufacturing it for general use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: what are the risks?

My concern though is in the potency. Potency levels are higher now then when Colorado first legalized marijuana. Not enough studies (I’m talking real in depth medical studies, not your uncle saying he smoked for years and is fine) have been done to determine the full effects of marijuana at different potency levels to truly determine the risk to humans.

Yet Everclear can be purchased at 190 proof (that’s 95% potency). I believe at this point, the last time I read up on it, it was banned from sale in maybe 8 states (or some number around that).

That leaves roughly 4/5ths of the country where it’s legal, despite its potency.

The number of deaths resulting from alcohol poisoning (in general) is around 6 per day (according to the CDC).

The number of deaths resulting from marijuana overdose however is either zero or near zero, despite the increase in potency.

As far as the potency argument, can you point to where there is (or should be) a legitimate concern about this? Because it seems like this potency issue is yet another attempt to stall legalization based on nothing more than an unfounded speculation.


bob says:

Re: Re: what are the risks?

No I don’t have any source to point to for where marijuana potency is too high. Just a concern because people haven’t had a chance to run real studies on its effects at different levels and usage periods.

And I don’t think legislation should be stalled on this concern either, but the studies should be done just to verify possible effects or lack of effects of different potency levels and usage over time. Good science based facts on this will help lawmakers and your average citizen in the future make better decisions for their lives.

Cigarettes did’t seem to be dangerous but decades later we found out the truth. Just don’t want history to repeat with a different substance.

Just a rambling thought but when narcotics and opioid were first brought to market some studies had been conducted but not necessarily enough either and with time we can see some of the harmful effects of using the meds and drugs. Would I ban them entirely, no. I think they have their purpose and if used responsibly they are a boon to society. But misused we have problems. Just like everything in life to much of something is a bad thing. People just don’t know yet where the too much line is for pot.

TL:DR legalize it, but also conduct studies to confirm its short term and long term effects from use over time and at different potency levels.

Chuck says:

Lottery 2.0

I live in Alabama, about 20 miles from the Georgia line. I was born right after the lottery was enacted in Georgia and when Alabama tried to pass our own Lottery, only to have the usual moral panic crew vote it down, I did some research (because I was, like, 8 months old when this happened and my memory isn’t THAT good.)

The same arguments were made by opponents of Georgia’s Lottery in Alabama back then. The theory was that it would increase crime not just in Georgia, but that said crime would bleed over into Alabama.

Instead, illegal gambling went DOWN in Alabama (it was already on the decline so who knows if it was causation or correlation, but it most certainly did not go up) and no other crime in particular spiked.

And in the last few years, it has become blatantly obvious why. There’s a gas station about 2 miles over the state line that sells lottery tickets. It has a line out the door on Fridays and the parking lot is nearly full at all hours. The only other things on this interstate exit are a waffle house and a red roof inn, nothing more. No major attractions or anything. And if you go to the next exit 3 miles further down the road? Nothing. Notta. Dead as a hammer, as my grandfather would say.

The inevitable conclusion is that people cross state lines to buy lottery tickets, Georgia funds HOPE Scholarships in part on the backs of Alabamian citizens, and crime doesn’t increase at all because people aren’t stupid – the lottery is legal 20 miles away. People are willing to drive 20 miles to stay legal. Go figure.

Pot is no different. People who are willing to shell out several hundred bucks for it are more than willing to rent a hotel room for the night and have their fun in-state where it’s legal. The whole point of driving to Colorado for weed is specifically NOT to break the law. Otherwise, I promise you there’s still illegal dealers in every single neighboring state. But when it’s so little effort to do something the legal way, people do.

Or to put this in terms the average techdirt reader can understand: iTunes isn’t successful because 99 cents is cheaper than piracy. They’re successful because it’s more CONVENIENT than piracy. Well legal weed a short drive away is more CONVENIENT than illegal weed and a jail sentence. Especially that last part. Jail is VERY inconvenient.

yankinwaoz (profile) says:

Re: Lottery 2.0

Same thing on the Nevada/Cal border on I-15. There is a shopping mall with a large parking lot on the border. On the Cal side of the border, there is nothing but one small store that sells Lotto tickets. During the big lotto draws you see a nice long line of Las Vegas residents winding through the parking lot waiting to buy a Cal lotto tix.

(FYI: Nevada does not have lottery).

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