Less than two weeks into the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, local law officials still don't know what effect it will have on Nebraska.
While county officials near the border say they have seen an influx since the legalization of medical marijuana — and expect more now — city officials are not expecting a large increase in incidents.
“We truly do believe that we're going to be inundated.” Keith County Sheriff Jeff Stevens said, noting that they've been dealing with marijuana from Colorado since 2003. “When [Colorado legalized] medical marijuana, up here at [Lake McConaughy], we saw an increase in marijuana that was brought across the border.”
Several officials with the Nebraska State Patrol said Friday the new Colorado law won't change any of the patrol's procedures or tactics.
“It's still too early to see what the impact of the recreational marijuana law could be,” NSP spokeswoman Deb Collins said. “It's business as usual for the Nebraska State Patrol.”
Collins also said the Patrol is reminding people in Nebraska that the laws here have not changed.
Within North Platte city limits, law enforcement officials have not seen much of an increase in marijuana arrests, nor are they anticipating one.
“I wouldn't expect a large increase in the city. With that being said, we have seen marijuana coming in from Colorado,” investigator John Deal said.
Deal said the only incident involving marijuana since Jan. 1 was a citation for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana at an apartment. He didn't know if the drugs confiscated in that arrest came from Colorado or not.
“About once or twice a month, we'll see someone ticketed for possession of marijuana, just a personal amount,” Deal said.
Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana is akin to receiving a traffic ticket, and is penalized with a $300 fine. Possession of less than an ounce on second offense is considered a Class IV misdemeanor, punishable with a $400 fine and up to five days in jail.
Nebraska is one of six states that have decriminalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana, but have not approved medical marijuana or outright legalized it like Colorado.
Marijuana arrests in which the marijuana originated in Colorado have been occurring regularly since medical marijuana was legalized 10 years ago in the neighboring state.
“We hear it all the time when we do arrest people -- that it's legal in Colorado, and we tell them it's not here,” Deal said.
Stevens said its going to take a collaborative effort between cities in western Nebraska, county sheriffs, the Nebraska State Patrol and the Game and Parks Commission to ultimately police marijuana trafficking.
“We've got to figure out a game plan since we are fairly close,” he said.
Stevens said law enforcement officials in Keith County plan to talk about how to best handle Colorado marijuana at a supervisor's meeting next week with the Nebraska State Patrol and Game and Parks.
Lincoln County does see less marijuana than counties that border Colorado, Deputy Sheriff Roland Kramer said, but his department did confiscate several pounds of marijuana in 2012 that appeared to be from a medical marijuana dispensary.
“Long term, I don't know,” he said. “You know that's going to flood over. We're at the beginning stages of it; we don't know the full impact. We're very, very concerned as law enforcement.”
With the border about an hour away by car, Kramer said he does expect to see more marijuana, and is concerned with people driving across the border to get it and driving back.
“That's a concern. It's pretty early to have any numbers, but it certainly isn't good for any of us,” he said.