Colorado's legal cannabis not welcomed in neighboring states

Is Colorado's newly-enacted cannabis law creating a new war between the states?

On Jan. 1, Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults. And while supporters of cannabis have hailed the move, there are signs the new law has created some ill will in the seven states bordering Colorado, and beyond.

Despite the new laws, and the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana for medical use, cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Federal law also governs all civil aviation, so Colorado airports are cracking down and prohibiting cannabis on their grounds.

"Denver International Airport asks that travelers who may not be aware that it is prohibited in the airport use a trash receptacle to discard their marijuana with no consequence as they will not be allowed to pass security with it," DIA spokesperson Stacey Stegman tells CBS Moneywatch. "It is business as usual at the airport and normal security and enforcement procedures apply." The Colorado Springs Airport, south of Denver, has also set up an "amnesty box" -- that allows air passengers to dump their marijuana without penalty before they board their plane.

Meanwhile, many of the states surrounding Colorado are far from happy with the prospect of marijuana being flown or driven out of the Centennial State and into their jurisdictions.

"We saw an impact just after the medical-marijuana legalization in Colorado in the number of stoned drivers on (Wyoming) Highway 287," Dave O' Malley, Sheriff of Albany Country, Wyoming -- just north of the Colorado border -- told the Laramie Boomerang earlier this month."We had more people in possession as well as people using while they're driving. So we've had an upswing in that regard."

O' Malley has two deputies who handle certified narcotics-detection dogs, and he expects they will be busy this year. "I would be naive to believe that folks aren't going to travel from Wyoming to Colorado to purchase marijuana legally and then transport it back to Wyoming," he added.

A public information officer for the Kansas Highway Patrol, quoted by the Kansas City Star, said while cannabis remains illegal in his state, the Patrol's officers have not been told to change their "law enforcement standard" when it comes to keeping a look-out for marijuana coming out of Colorado.

 But Brian Leininger, a Leawood, Kan., defense attorney, disagrees. "The Kansas Highway Patrol and police agencies out near the border are really looking hard for people who are bringing marijuana into the state from Colorado," he told the newspaper.

Law enforcement officials in the Texas Panhandle, separated from Colorado by the 34-mile-wide sliver of Oklahoma's panhandle, are also on alert for marijuana being trafficked south into the Lone Star State.

"I think (the flow of marijuana) might pick up some, that would not be a total surprise," Dallam County Chief Deputy Kevin Martin said during an interview with the Amarillo Globe-News. "I don't know if it will be a large increase, though. Since it is going to be easier to get in Colorado, that might mean there would be more of it coming through."

The feds, meanwhile, have been relatively quiet on the issue -- although last August the Justice Department did issue a notable memo. It said the DOJ expects Washington and Colorado to strictly enforce their new marijuana rules, to be "tough in practice, not just on paper" -- and warned federal officials would "act aggressively" and perhaps challenge the recreational cannabis laws if they're not enforced properly.

  • Bruce Kennedy

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