Colorado’s legalization of marijuana has completely changed the landscape involving the marijuana that we encounter, across Nebraska and in every surrounding state. Almost all of the marijuana that we see originates in Colorado. The potency has increased dramatically, and so has the price. Our WING Drug Task Force’s primary objective is to combat methamphetamine and organized drug trafficking organizations. Law enforcement in our area has not undertaken any organized effort to interdict marijuana, but we can’t stop running across it.
Marijuana potency (THC level) was in the low single digits in the 1960s and 1970s. But today’s Colorado marijuana is many times as powerful. The smoking variety commonly tests over 20 percent. But “edibles,” in the form of candy, baked goods, and drinks have levels as high as 90 percent. Many are manufactured and packaged to look exactly like candy, and because they are odorless, there is no way to tell what they are.
The Netherlands, with a long history of legal marijuana use, has limited THC to 15 percent. They treat anything higher than that as a dangerous drug, in the same class as cocaine.
Marijuana is illegal under federal and Nebraska law. Law enforcement officers take an oath to uphold and enforce the law. That oath is a really big thing in our business. It’s the foundation of what we do and who we are. Critics say we should just ignore marijuana offenses. Shall we ignore our oath? Are there any other laws you would like for us to ignore?
Nebraska is one of the most liberal states regarding marijuana. First offense possession of less than an ounce is an infraction, just like a traffic offense. It is not a criminal charge, offenders receive a citation, and the penalty is a fine. I wouldn’t change that and I don’t know any Nebraska officers that think we should. You don’t reach felony levels until you sell it or possess more than a pound, or possess hashish (highly concentrated).
Since Colorado legalized marijuana, its involvement in traffic fatalities has more than doubled since 2007, to over 16 percent in 2012. Try telling the families involved in those accidents that “marijuana never killed anyone.” Adult marijuana use in Colorado has increased 36 percent, and is 51 percent higher than the national average. From 2011 to 2013 Colorado has seen a 57 percent increase in emergency room visits related to marijuana, and the percent of ALL hospitalizations related to marijuana increased 91 percent from 2008 to 2013. Colorado marijuana interdiction seizures destined for other states have increased 397 percent since 2008, and have taken place in 40 other states.
Is this just “Reefer madness?” Look at New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s essay on her terrifying experience with marijuana edibles, “Don’t Harsh Our Mellow, Dude.” Look up the stories of the Wyoming college student that jumped to his death from a hotel balcony after consuming a marijuana cookie, and the husband and father that hallucinated after consuming marijuana candy and shot his wife in the head while she was on the phone with 911.
With legalization, is crime down in Denver? Only when you use partial statistics. Denver PD’s total reported crimes for all categories increased 8.6 percent from 2012 through 2013, and 2.5 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Is this a state’s rights issue? The framers wrote the Constitution with the supremacy clause, meaning that when federal and state law clashes, federal law prevails. Lots of people were happy when the Supreme Court decided that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own firearms. State and local laws prohibiting and limiting firearms ownership were promptly struck down by federal courts, all due to the supremacy clause.
Do we want our children and grandchildren to grow up where this drug is legal? A January AP story says “Marijuana-related calls to poison control centers in Washington and Colorado have spiked since the states began allowing legal sales last year, with an especially troubling increase in calls concerning young children.” A study released in 2014 by Northwestern University/Harvard medical schools shows “Young adults who used marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in two key brain regions that are important in emotion and motivation.” Youth marijuana use age 12-17 in Colorado is 39 percent higher than the national average. Marijuana related exposures of children age 0-5 has increased 268 percent since 2010. In the Nebraska panhandle, marijuana related police contacts with youth under age 21 doubled between 2010 and 2014, with children as young as 13 in possession of marijuana.
Colorado’s marijuana legalization is costing us money and putting our children at risk. Nebraska is the good life, let’s keep it that way.