Since Coloradans voted at the last election to make the recreation sale of marijuana legal, business interests have been trying to turn a buck.
The state is reporting millions of dollars in income from taxes and fees on pot shops and private enterprise is tapping into the flow of hundred dollar bills every way possible. One group is even assembling a list of houses that can be rented by out-of-staters for pot parties, since the “public” use of marijuana remains off-limits and most motels and hotels don’t allow smoking.
But there remain potential bumps in the road. For instance, such marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and while the Obama administration has chosen to ignore enforcement, another administration, coming in only a few years, could take a different approach.
And almost daily in the news there are the tragedies, including a student who jumped to his death while apparently high on pot, or the man who ate a pot-laced candy and allegedly shot and killed his wife while she was on the telephone with 911 operators trying to get help.
And then there are the fourth-graders who were caught allegedly bringing their grandparents’ pot to school to sell – for $11.
But now the state is facing another very real threat to the revenue stream Colorado lawmakers are busily dividing up in the current legislative session.
A lawsuit from neighbors.
It seems pot fans, in addition to smoking it up in Colorado, sometimes want to take some home with them. Out of state. Where it remains illegal.
A new report in the Omaha World Herald quoted Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning saying although a lawsuit is not right now imminent, it remains a possibility.
“We are very troubled by the fact that their change in law has become our problem, so you never say never,” he said.
According to the report, law enforcement officers in Nebraska’s western region, adjacent to Colorado, are more direct.
Deuel County Sheriff Adam Hayward in Chappell told the Omaha newspaper there already is talk among law enforcement officers that Colorado should be contributing to their costs of enforcing drug laws.
“I don’t know what it will take to get someone to stand up and do something to try to get some of our money back,” he said.
The marijuana businesses were allowed to opening Colorado on Jan. 1 of this year, and the lines of customers circled blocks in some cases. Retail marijuana stores ran out of wares, sometimes within hours.
While that business model has stabilized somewhat, there has been nothing done yet to address the fact that marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, and under the laws of Colorado’s six neighbors, no matter what is allowed inside the state.
But travelers like their souvenirs and many travel that Interstate 80 corridor from Denver northeast through Sterling and into Nebraska. There, officers are enforcing their own state’s marijuana prohibition.
Anthony Shutz, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska College of Law openly suggested that the easiest solution would be for Colorado to just share the revenue, but he admitted to the newspaper that was unlikely.
Maybe it could end up before Congress.
Washington told federal prosecutors not to worry about state laws such as Colorado’s, and a similar law in Washington state, even though the results violate federal law.
Schutz told the newspaper such a precedent, if Congress was open to experiment, could lead to a sharing of costs across state boundaries.
“Congress could say it’s fine to let Colorado experiment, but we need to figure out a way to protect Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming,” he told the World-Herald. “Congress could say Colorado could have weed but it needs to pay these costs.”
Deuel County officials said they have had 30 felony marijuana cases already in 2014, compared to 35 in all of 2013. And the Nebraska State Patrol has seized 997 pounds of marijuana in 2014, only 281 pounds short of the entire haul during 2013, officials told the newspaper.
Other states have reported high marijuana trafficking too, but some say they already are addressing the costs, such as in Oklahoma, where authorities charge prisoners a $50 lodging fee for staying in their jail.
The left-leaning Westword blog in Denver offered another solution: “Could Nebraska cops be busting their budget by purposefully (and needlessly) increasing their efforts to catch cannabis-carrying drivers in hopes of cashing in on Colorado’s increased tax dollars?”