Legalized Marijuana Ignites a Pot-Smuggling Crisis in the Great Plains

Spotty, state-by-state marijuana legalization is causing problems between the haves and the have-nots

Aug 17, 2014 at 2:44PM

Marijuana The legal weed business in Colorado is flourishing, with June pulling down sales of $24.7 million, the biggest month since legalization took hold in January. The state took in nearly $24 million in pot-generated revenue just through the month of May, according to the New York Times. 

But, there's a dark side to Colorado's success, which features hordes of tourists inundating the state to purchase everything from the weed itself to marijuana-infused treats and beauty products.

In fact, it is the out-of-state visitors that are causing the rumpus – as they take cannabis products on the road with them, beyond the state borders of Colorado.

A homegrown traffic problem
Troubles are arising not from the fact that pot is legal in Colorado, but that it is still considered contraband in neighboring states, like Kansas and Nebraska. Complicating matters further is that possessing and growing marijuana is still a federal crime.

Though the U.S. Justice Department has taken a relaxed stance toward the legalization efforts of states like Colorado, it is still illegal to take the drug out of the state. For law enforcement in Kansas, it has been a conundrum: though the Sheriff's office has little desire to arrest people carrying legal weed out of Colorado, both federal and Kansas state law hold that the substance is illegal.

In a recent interview, Sheriff Cody Beeson of Cheyenne County, Kansas, related how accidents and routine traffic stops often produce evidence of cannabis being transported out of Colorado, an issue that is increasing law enforcement costs in his county. Often, his staff has to spend time on pot-trafficking issues, neglecting other duties. The Sheriff of Goodland, Kansas, worries that the surge in weed-smuggling arrests will deplete his budget quickly this year, since each inmate costs the county $45 for each day spent in a jail cell.

A growing black market troubles Colorado's neighbors
Neighboring states like Nebraska also worry about a burgeoning black market in Colorado weed, a situation that legalization was supposed to extinguish.

Even within the state of Colorado, it still exists, primarily due to the higher prices being charged for the legal cannabis. The only reason that the black market has suffered within the state, says a dealer interviewed by CBS4 in Colorado Springs, is because almost anyone can obtain a medical marijuana card – if they really want to.

Outside of the state, of course, things are different. The stellar quality of the weed sold in Colorado has gained a reputation, and the federally funded Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program has tracked the product to 40 other U.S. states.

No reprieve in sight
With the mish-mash of marijuana laws currently in force, 76% of Americans live in a state that has at least some level of legal tolerance for marijuana, and it seems like legalizing the drug at the federal level would bring instant relief to those states forced to expend taxpayers' money chasing smugglers of recreational pot. Even the director of the RMHIDTA expressed frustration with the lack of consistency in the laws regarding cannabis. 

But the agonizingly slow pace of marijuana legalization seems certain to plod on, with Washington state beginning its own recreational industry this summer. Perhaps states will legalize pot as a sort of self-defense measure, finally realizing that legalization is the only sure-fire way to stop spending money fighting weed – and, like Colorado, to begin making money by embracing it. 

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