The legalization of marijuana has forced police officers to violate federal law, say a group of sheriffs who are suing Colorado over the drug. It has dramatically affected the officers who have to patrol the streets — delivering them a new set of complex problems.
“It’s legal, man, why are you hassling us?”
It’s a phrase Barry Rizk, a Colorado Springs police officer assigned to the downtown area, has heard frequently.
People think because pot is legal they can smoke in the open.
From January through October last year, police in the downtown area wrote 24 tickets for pot smoking in public; citywide through Dec. 28, the number was 52.
Rizk has all kinds of stories associated with marijuana.
“I’ve had people driving by smoking it. I remember it was super hot one day, and I had my windows rolled up (with the air conditioning) and I’m in my patrol car and I’m on Tejon and a guy honks his horn at me and tells me to roll my window down. He’s driving by in his vehicle, smoking marijuana, sees me and has me roll my window down. I ended up writing him a couple of tickets. I asked him ‘what were you thinking?’ ”
There was the guy from Texas who said he moved here for Colorado’s grow. Others for the “hot bud.”
Then there were the four teens from Oklahoma who came here for pot. “They basically drove around looking for it, and they found a dealer with a red card who went to an MMJ dispensary and bought the pot. He went in and bought it and came out and sold to them. We ticketed them and identified the dealer and arrested him, who also had LSD.
“I’ve run into both transient and nontransient people who have moved here because of medical marijuana and now because of the legalization of marijuana. I can tell you personally, I’m sure you have noticed this, too, but we smell it everywhere. Just everywhere,” Rizk said recently while on the job downtown.
Michael, a 58-year-old homeless man who did not want to give his last name, agrees with Rizk that pot is prevalent.
“Pretty much everyone out here uses,” he said on a recent warm day while resting in Monument Valley Park. “It’s a new game. Now it’s tough to get a cigarette. It used to be harder to get a buzz in this park than it was to get a cigarette. Now the shoe is on the other foot. It’s tough to get a cigarette,” he said.
“It seems like it’s falling out of trees. I’ve found buds on the ground. It invaded the entire culture of the town.”
In Colorado, anyone 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of pot. Medical marijuana cardholders get to have twice as much. Police Chief Pete Carey has had to equip officers with the right tool for the laws.
“Aside from some training issues, I had to purchase scales for our officers so they know exactly how much an ounce is when they stop somebody,” Carey said. He bought 100 of them.
“If it’s 28 grams or less, they give it back,” Carey said, citing the equivalent of an ounce.