With only two deputies, Sheriff Hayward enforces the law in the vast county, which covers 450 square miles and has a population of about 2,000 people. Hayward says felony arrests for marijuana possession -- meaning the possession of more than a pound of pot -- have increased significantly since Colorado legalized the drug more than a year ago, up from four such arrests in 2011 to 32 last year. Hayward told Siegler that the increase in marijuana arrests adds a $150,000 burden to the county.
Deuel County already has minimal resources, Hayward claims. It no longer has the funds to operate a jail; in fact, Hayward uses an empty cell as an evidence room. Today it holds pounds of marijuana, the majority of it labeled from Colorado retailers.
Hayward and other law enforcement officials in Nebraska argue that Colorado has few controls to keep criminals from what they call “dispensary shopping” -- i.e. purchasing small quantities of marijuana from several dispensaries, amassing large amounts, and bringing it back over the Nebraska border to sell.
Colorado does not track purchasers of pot because to do so would violate Amendment 64. However, state residents can only purchase an ounce of recreational marijuana at a time, and out-of-state residents are limited to a quarter of an ounce. Some say this limit would make such dispensary shopping so onerous as to be unlikely.
Siegler told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner that Hayward and other police officers are also concerned that Colorado marijuana is more potent than street weed. Hayward told Siegler, “We need to stand up and say no, we don’t want this stuff here, it’s dangerous, it’s bad for people’s health, you don’t want your kids getting involved in this.”
Siegler also visited a dispensary in Sedgewick, Colorado, about eight miles from the Nebraska border. Dispensary owners advertise it as the closest to Nebraska; Siegler says the small town is seeing more traffic these days, drawn by that retailer.
Siegler notes that the amounts of Colorado marijuana actually moving over the border are unknown. He adds that the western Nebraska county is politically conservative and that law enforcement officials there don’t want marijuana legalized in that state. Nebraska has decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot.
Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado in December over the passage of Amendment 64, saying it puts an undue burden on them and that they are struggling to enforce the federal ban on marijuana. In an interview with Colorado Matters Host Ryan Warner this week, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said she believes the suit is without merit and that she will “vigorously defend the law.”