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Colorado marijuana law frustrates Nebraska law officers

Associated Press Updated: April 21, 2014 at 1:15 pm 0

OMAHA, Neb. — Some Nebraska law enforcement officers are increasingly frustrated that their agencies have to bear the cost of jailing and prosecuting people for drug violations tied to Colorado's legalized marijuana.

Premium-quality cannabis from Colorado has been appearing in western Nebraska communities and burning through law enforcement budgets since Colorado started allowing the purchase and use of pot for medical purposes — and then, beginning Jan. 1, recreationally. Pot remains an illicit drug under federal law and in all seven states that border Colorado.

Many officers in the region have come to believe that Colorado should shoulder some of the cost, the Omaha World-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/PkoFxD ) Sunday.

Deuel County Sheriff Adam Hayward said law enforcement officers talk frequently about the issue, but political leaders in Lincoln don't appear to want to get involved.

"I don't know what it will take to get someone to stand up and do something to try to get some of our money back," he said.

Colorado Statehouse officials estimate tax and fee revenues from legalized recreational marijuana will be about $54.7 million for the full fiscal year ending in June 2015.

Attorney General Jon Bruning said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of taking Colorado to court, although the state has no immediate plans for a lawsuit.

"We are very troubled by the fact that their change in law has become our problem," Bruning said.

Specially licensed Colorado stores started selling retail weed Jan. 1 to adults 21 or older. Colorado residents who possess state-issued identification can buy up to 1 ounce. Out-of-state visitors can buy up to a quarter-ounce.

Dispensaries for medical marijuana opened in 2009. Although it's illegal to take or ship marijuana out of the state, Colorado has become a source state for weed in other parts of the country, and authorities say Interstate 80 in Nebraska is one of the primary pipelines.

In Hayward's Deuel County, where eastbound Interstate 76 traffic from Colorado enters Nebraska and merges onto I-80, there have been 30 felony marijuana cases attributed to Colorado pot on its court ledger so far this year. There were about 35 last year.

Suing Colorado because of Nebraska's law enforcement expenses isn't a good solution because it would take years to resolve, with no guarantee of success, said Anthony Schutz, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln.

Schutz mentioned options other than suing. One would be for Colorado to share a slice of its tax revenue from legalized marijuana with neighboring states experiencing increased drug enforcement costs.

"That's probably unlikely," he told the newspaper.

Another would be for Congress, which already regulates pot under federal authority, to step in and say there can be no marketplace for marijuana.

"Nothing is certain," Schutz said.

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