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Neighboring states say more Colorado marijuana coming across borders, but stats don't yet back that claim

By: garrison wells
March 23, 2014 Updated: March 24, 2014 at 5:43 am
photo - A welcome sign sits at the Colorado, New Mexico border north of Taos. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
A welcome sign sits at the Colorado, New Mexico border north of Taos. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Recreational marijuana from Colorado isn't exactly surging across state lines in mass quantities - at least not that law enforcement is aware of.

There's evidence, however, at least anecdotally, that illegal pot border-crossings are up slightly since Jan. 1, when it became legal for licensed Colorado retailers to sell pot for recreational purposes.

Officially, it's too early to tell, according to officials from states that border Colorado.

Neighboring states haven't ramped up enforcement, and state troopers aren't perched on borders watching for Colorado plates.

"It's kind of business as usual," said Wyoming Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Steve Townsend.

"We've seen an increase of marijuana activity, not only from Colorado citizens bringing it in, but Wyoming citizens going down and bringing it back," he said. "We anticipate there is going to be a substantial increase in violations, but our data is inconclusive."

Colorado's neighboring states - Wyoming, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and New Mexico - sent warnings that people crossing their states with recreational pot would see heavy prosecution.

Officials say it will be a year before they will be able to measure the impact recreational pot sales is having.

That's not to say, however, that Colorado pot hasn't made its presence known. Even before stores started selling recreational pot in Colorado, it was one of the state's more popular exports.

Click here to see some of the recent busts of people taking pot out of Colorado.

As early as 2012, medical marijuana from Colorado was making its way to states as far away as Georgia, Maryland, Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Indeed, only 10 states haven't reported being the recipients of the state's flow of pot into other parts of the United States. The top three exporters were Denver, Boulder and El Paso County, according to a study by Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

"I'm hearing Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska are being inundated by Colorado marijuana," said the organization's director, Tom Gorman.

The numbers are telling.

In 2012, there were 274 busts that seized Colorado marijuana headed for other states, compared with 54 in 2005, a 407 percent increase, the study said. Altogether, there were 7,008 pounds of Colorado marijuana seized in 2012.

The most common destinations were Kansas (37 busts), Missouri (30), Illinois (22) Texas (18), Wisconsin (18), Florida (16) and Nebraska (13).

From 2005 to 2008, compared with 2009 to 2012, the average number of seizures per year involving Colorado pot more than quadrupled from an average of 52.2 to 242.

During those same periods, the average amount of seized Colorado pot jumped 77 percent from 2,220 pounds to 3,937.

Recreational sales will increase those numbers, experts say.

"You can imagine if that is the case with medical, what is going to be the case with recreational?" Gorman said.

"We've seen gummy bears and brownies and some indication that they are coming out of retail stores, but we don't have a lot of data yet."

Colorado medicinal pot is a big hit in Nebraska, said Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman.

Overman is also the operational coordinator of the panhandle's Western Nebraska Intelligence & Narcotics Group. The WING Task Force covers the 11 panhandle counties.

"Pot is way up and it's Colorado," he said. "Colorado is our core state for marijuana now."

"It's still too early to tell if there's an uptick from recreational pot, but in the last two years there's been an enormous uptick overall," Overman said. "That fact that recreational pot was not available until Jan. 1 made no difference at all. Our folks started buying anything they wanted a couple years ago. In the last couple of years it's been the medicinal stuff."

In 2013, he said, the group seized 252 pounds of pot.

"That's a bunch," he said. "Those are people in Colorado who were selling it; Colorado medical marijuana purveyors who were selling it to just about anybody."

In the New Mexico border towns of Taos, Raton and Farmington, the state police usually employs five to seven officers.

That hasn't changed since Colorado began to sell recreational pot, said Lt. Emmanuel Gutierrez, spokesman for the New Mexico state police.

"We're just putting officers out there conducting business the way we always have," he said. So far, he said, it's too early to tell if there's been an increase in pot crossing over from Colorado.

"Marijuana is still illegal, and our officers will still take action as they have in the past, he said. "It's been relatively slow so far."

In Oklahoma, traffic stops have resulted in the discovery of some Colorado marijuana, so authorities know it's there, but there's nothing conclusive yet.

"I wouldn't say a lot, but we've had incidents where we made traffic stops and had Colorado marijuana admitted by passengers," said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangers Drugs Control. "We've had individuals who went to Colorado and either brought it back to Oklahoma or mailed it to themselves or a buddy in Oklahoma."

That evidence is enough to tell authorities that there's been an impact and it likely will grow as the industry grows in Colorado.

"It's already happening, and we will start to see more of it," Woodward said.

In Kansas, the biggest amount of pot seized was 13,715 pounds in 2010. In 2013, the state patrol seized 6,186 pounds, said Lt. Josh Kellerman, spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol.

"That number in 2010, I don't know why," Kellerman said. "Maybe in 2010 it was a really heavy supply and demand."

Tracing pot brought into Kansas back to Colorado isn't a simple process, he said.

"We haven't really developed a way to do that," Kellerman said. "If a person has 900 pounds of marijuana in his car, he isn't going to be very open with law enforcement."

But at the end of this year, he added: "It will be interesting. Will we double that 2013 number?"



Pot leaving Colorado for other states has been plentiful. Here’s a look at a few marijuana busts.

Jan. 4, 2013: South Dakota State Patrol stopped a vehicle on Interstate 90 and seized 1 pound of marijuana. The people in the vehicle said they were bringing the marijuana back from Colorado to South Dakota for their college baseball teammates.

April 28, 2013: A Nebraska State Patrol officer stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation. The officer discovered a 1-pound bag of marijuana. The driver admitted to transporting marijuana to Omaha, Neb., for $200 per trip. He said a Boulder medical marijuana dispensary owner provided him with the marijuana and paid him for the delivery.

Jan. 10, 2013: Nebraska State Patrol stopped a vehicle on Interstate 80. Patrol seized 476 pounds of marijuana from Colorado that was headed for Wisconsin.

March 20, 2012: Arkansas State Police stopped a vehicle on Interstate 40 for a traffic violation. The vehicle left Denver and was going to Little Rock, Ark. A search revealed 241 pounds of marijuana in multiple duffle bags.

Feb. 19, 2013: Texas Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle from Denver destined for Richardson, Texas. A search of the vehicle revealed multiple drugs including 1.95 pounds of marijuana in seven bags. Also found were four containers with marijuana butter, popcorn, drinks and baked cookies.

Sept. 18, 2012: Kansas Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle on Interstate 70 for a traffic violation. A search revealed 38 1/2 pounds of marijuana packaged and sealed in gallon-size plastic bags. The driver was going to Virginia Beach, Va., from Colorado Springs.

Source: Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

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