UNO study finds marijuana arrests rose in Nebraska after Colorado legalization

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Mariel Richter
ONLINE REPORTER

According to a new study published last Monday by the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s (UNO) Nebraska Center for Justice Research (NCJR), Nebraska spent 10.2 million dollars on marijuana related crime the year after Colorado legalized recreational drug use in 2014.

NCJR Director Ryan Spohn, Ph.D. and UNO Doctoral Candidate Jared Ellison, found that marijuana arrest rates increased about 11 percent in the first year of Colorado’s legalized recreational marijuana use.

The study was conducted after a 2014 Nebraska legislative committee asserted that Colorado’s marijuana legalization had led to increased time and money from the state of Nebraska due to marijuana arrests. Based on these claims, Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado for monetary relief due to increased law enforcement costs they claim were caused by Colorado’s new marijuana policy.

The Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit under the requirement that it be vetted by lower federal courts before the argument will be heard by the Supreme Court.

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Ellison said the study’s purpose was to test the claims of the prosecutors, court personnel, and jail administrators from the committee. They wanted to see if increases in marijuana-related arrests actually affected some counties more than others and whether the marijuana enforcement costs did increase for the state.

“We found that marijuana-related costs did increase across the state, and that the majority of this increase originated from counties along the I-80 corridor. This provides some support for officials’ claims, but we cannot rule out that the rise in marijuana arrests could have, at least in part, been a result of increased efforts on the part of Nebraska law enforcement,” said Ellison.

A copy of the study will be submitted to the legislature. Ellison said it is the NCJR’s hope that the senators reviewing the study will “simply be aware of the estimated amount of money that is spent on marijuana prohibition in Nebraska.”

The study followed marijuana and marijuana arrest costs along the seven counties bordering Colorado, the eight counties in the panhandle, and the eleven counties on the I-80 corridor, and the remaining 67 Nebraska counties compared to the same data from 2009-2013.

“What Colorado has done may not necessarily be the answer for Nebraska, but fiscally, something must be done or taxpayers will end up losing in the end,” said Ellison.

I-80 counties saw the greatest increase in marijuana related arrests, followed by Colorado-Nebraska border counties. Border and panhandle counties both saw 21 and 20 percent increases in marijuana related costs, respectively. Marijuana possession arrests increased by 63 percent along I-80, while marijuana sales arrests on I-80 increased by only 26 percent.

In contrast, the Colorado-Nebraska counties studied in the research experienced the greatest increase in marijuana sale arrests, increasing 39 percent. A substantial 20 percent increase in costs of marijuana enforcement. While the boarder, panhandle, and I-80 counties experienced increased marijuana possession and sales arrests, the rest of Nebraska’s arrests remained fairly stable, while the possession rate actually decreased.

Ellison noted that Nebraska is one of many states that may be facing an uphill battle as more states legalize marijuana. “Furthermore, we would want senators to know that marijuana arrests (and associated costs) have increased, but that it is difficult to fully attribute these increases to policy changes across the border.

Other factors (e.g., vigilance of law enforcement) may also play a role in these increases, and NCJR has plans to continue to examine these effects more closely as subsequent years of data become available.

Click here to read the entire study, titled “Colorado’s legalization of medicinal marijuana: The effects on Nebraska’s law enforcement and local jail system”.

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