POT Crossing: Marijuana creeps its way into Nebraska due to Colorado legalization, UNO study finds


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By Jackson Taylor, News Editor

Amendment 64 was enacted In November 2012, allowing adults in Colorado aged 21 and older to grow up to six cannabis plants privately in a locked space and legally possess all cannabis from the plants they grow. Although this law is for citizens and visitors in the state of Colorado, the effects of this law extend into its neighbor to the east, Nebraska. A study done by researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha found a spike in marijuana-related arrests in Nebraska counties that border Colorado. Written by Ryan Spohn, Ph.D, and doctoral student Jared Ellison from UNO’s Nebraska Center for Justice Research, the study analyzed data on marijuana-related arrests and jail admission records in Nebraska from 2000 to 2013, as medicinal marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2000 and recreational in 2012. The study also looked at the effects on county jail overcrowding and operating costs over the 14-year period. The seven Nebraska counties that border Colorado are Chase, Cheyenne, Deuel, Dundy, Keith, Kimball and Perkins. According to the study, these seven counties felt the heaviest impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado, as the number of marijuana offenders has significantly increased. The analysis of possession arrests show that there was a 145 percent increase over a 14-year period, from 103 arrests in 2000 to 253 in 2013. For marijuana-sales arrests, the increase was even higher—a whopping 850 percent. Another analysis found that marijuana jail admissions in bordering counties have increased by 300 percent since 2000. The number of admissions has gone from 13 in 2000 to 54 in 2012. Researchers concluded, somewhat surprisingly, a decrease in jail crowding by 39 percent along border counties despite the spike in marijuana-related arrests and jail admissions. There is a common fear amongst lawmakers and sheriffs that the drug-related activity will spread along the I-80 corridor and spread all throughout the state. Spohn refutes this claim. “Our research suggests that non-border counties have largely been immune,” he said. The eleven counties that exist along the I-80 corridor are Buffalo, Cass, Dawson, Douglas, Hall, Hamilton, Lancaster, Lincoln, Sarpy, Seward and York. In these counties, possession-related arrests fell by 3 percent but sale-related arrests increased by 19 percent.

Nebraska made national headlines in December for filing a lawsuit alongside Oklahoma, against Colorado for its marijuana legalization. The two states argue that, “the state of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system.” The lawsuit alleges that marijuana flows into neighboring states, undermining other states’ marijuana bans and creating problems within the criminal justice systems. Although this study does not endorse the lawsuit which many are calling a violation of states’ rights, it does support the statement that legalization in Colorado is having an effect on neighboring states. This study was handed over to Nebraska lawmakers, to assist in legislative sessions held on Jan. 28. The purpose of these sessions was to discuss bills to address the legalization’s effect on Nebraska.