- Associated Press - Monday, May 2, 2016

BOISE CITY, Okla. (AP) - Only three men stand in the way of people who would bring marijuana into Oklahoma from Colorado, which touches a portion of this 1,900-square-mile county.

“We do a lot of overtime I guess,” said Cimarron County Sheriff Leon Apple, laughing.

Apple and his two deputies, one of whom works with a drug-sniffing dog, are stretched thin across a wide swath of the Oklahoma plains.

And while Apple will likely tell you that is part of the job, to respond to a diversity of situations without backup, he will more than certainly add that since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2014, his office has seen arrests rise significantly.

Take the deputy with the canine, he said, who was added to the team within the past year.

“He’s been here since about September, October, and we’ve had over 30 pounds of marijuana seized coming out of Colorado,” Apple said.

Before that, he said, “I doubt if we’ve had a couple pounds (per year) at the most, if that much.”

The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1TvzMAz ) reports that Attorney General Scott Pruitt claimed in a federal challenge that Oklahoma’s criminal justice system has been negatively affected by Colorado’s marijuana laws. Pruitt, who was joined in the lawsuit by Nebraska, asserted Colorado’s decriminalization of marijuana has caused the drug to flow more heavily into Oklahoma.

That lawsuit was dismissed in March by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Oklahoma and Nebraska are now asking an appeals court to allow them to join a court case that may decide whether federal drug laws pre-empt Colorado’s legalization.

“Because the people of Nebraska and Oklahoma have determined the marijuana is harmful and should be illegal, Nebraska and Oklahoma have a duty to protect their citizens from the continuing harms resulting from Colorado’s illegal activities,” the attorneys general wrote in the request.

The court has yet to make a decision on the appeal.

County sheriffs and district attorneys across the Panhandle and western Oklahoma generally agree on a few facts about the legally purchased marijuana making its way into the state. Most marijuana and marijuana products, such as candies, that is confiscated on their highways is in small amounts intended for personal use.

Most of those caught are commuting through the county where they were arrested, not staying, and most are headed through the Oklahoma Panhandle back to Texas.

Larger busts usually involve Mexican drug cartels, and more of the drug originates from California, which legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996, than Colorado.

While the increase in busts does not present a financial burden to his office, Apple said he is afraid people will see Colorado’s tax revenue boom after the law change as a sign marijuana should be legal everywhere. He also believes, like many of his counterparts in northwest Oklahoma, that only a fraction of the Colorado marijuana coming into the state is confiscated.

“I’m a small jail,” said Harper County Sheriff Marty Drew. “I’m only a 14-bed jail, and we’d probably make arrests every day if we went out and really beat the brush and stopped every car that was suspicious.”

Lt. John Vincent with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said while their officers routinely assist with drug busts, his department has no data suggesting an increase in cases since Colorado changed its laws.

“It’s not like every other car coming from Colorado has marijuana in it,” Vincent said. “It’s one of those that’s just like any other place, it’s available for somebody to try and bring it across the border. It’s something we look for, no matter where they’re coming from. We’re always looking.”

It might be business as usual for some law enforcement agencies, but the county court system is a different story entirely.

“It is exploding our docket,” said District Attorney Mike Boring, who oversees the entire Panhandle.

“It’s just massive,” Boring said. “Cimarron County has been … averaging 37 felony cases per year. That’s what they’ve averaged for the last 11 years. As of today, we’ve already filed 23 cases, and we’re not even to the end of April.” Most of those were drug offenses, he said.

Boring said he thinks Pruitt has identified a serious problem in Oklahoma, considering his office and many others like it across the state are working more cases with fewer resources.

“We have our hands full with crimes against children, rapes, molestation, homicides,” he said. “That’s the stuff we’ve got to devote our attention to, and when we do it properly we don’t have time to deal with much else.”

Most of those caught in his district who are first-time offenders are given a deferred sentence and required to see a specialist at a state-certified substance abuse treatment facility to determine if they need professional help battling an addiction.

Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control, said Colorado’s market is still young, and he expects to see the numbers rise as people interested in illegally distributing marijuana to other states continue to make inroads with drug traffickers.

“You tend to see 200 pounds in duffel bags going to the East Coast from California because they have a black market,” he said. “Those connections in Colorado are still being established.”

What little data does exist on where Colorado’s marijuana is migrating does suggest an increase.

In 2013, Colorado interdiction teams seized marijuana headed out of state 288 times, a nearly 400 percent increase compared to 2008, according to a Rocky Mountain High-Density Drug Trafficking Area study. The study found that Oklahoma was one of the top five destinations for Colorado’s marijuana.


Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide