While comedians poke fun at Colorado as the Wild West of Weed, cops say there’s little evidence anything has changed significantly since marijuana was legalized in the state whose capital, Denver, is known as the Mile-High City.
On Jan. 1, Colorado allowed licensed marijuana dealers to open stores where adults can buy up to an ounce of pot at a time. Those stores have seen long lines and short supplies as Coloradans and out-of-state visitors buy marijuana. And while there may be a perception that neighboring troopers are camping out on the state line to snap up smugglers, there’s no evidence that massive amounts of marijuana are flowing out of the state.
Late-night TV’s Jimmy Kimmel cracked: “The new state slogan is ‘Come for the legal marijuana, stay because you forgot to leave.'”
And The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon chimed in with his own dig: “Colorado expects to make $100 million over the next year from taxing legalized marijuana. Their governor, John Hickenlooper … says he will use a lot of that money to build new schools. They’ve even announced some of the names of those schools. First we have ‘U. Holden Academy,’ next we have ‘Hot Pocket Prep’ and here’s our last one here, ‘St. Mary Jane’s.'”
Despite all the attention, though, states surrounding Colorado have seen little effect, police say.
“I’ve heard people saying it’s becoming an epidemic, and it’s certainly not,” says Capt. Scott Harrington of the Kansas Highway Patrol, whose troopers patrol the eastern boundary of Colorado. “It’s status quo. We’re just not seeing something that turns our heads.”
On the northern Colorado border, Wyoming state trooper Karl Germain and his drug-sniffing dog, Bonnie, are keeping a close eye out for anyone smuggling marijuana north on Interstate 25 from the Denver area, or east and west on Interstate 80. The two highways see heavy traffic from truckers, tourists and other people crisscrossing the nation’s heartland. Germain says Wyoming’s troopers are well aware of what’s going on in Colorado but haven’t seen problems.
“Our primary focus is the safety of the people on the roadway,” Germain says, after issuing a written warning to a speeding driver. “We’re not out here profiling. We’re not out here stopping everyone with Colorado plates. As long as they’re not impaired, and they don’t bring it back, it’s none of my business.”
Officials with the Utah, New Mexico and Nebraska state patrols all say the same thing: They aren’t doing anything different and they aren’t seeing any changes. They remain focused on dangerous drivers regardless of their license plates or direction of travel.
“We’re not setting up at the border,” says Capt. Tyler Kotter of the Utah Department of Public Safety. Kotter says it stands to reason that more marijuana will be moving through Utah along Interstate 70. “We haven’t seen any trends yet.”
Still, a lot of people seem to believe that drivers leaving Colorado are being targeted. Denver Defense Attorney Rob Corry has heard it plenty.
“The story runs the same: They are detained for two hours while the police dismantle their vehicles,” says Corry, a well-known marijuana activist. “They find nothing and later admit it was because they’re from Colorado.”
Corry says he has no evidence to back up those complaints but has heard more than a handful over the past couple of months.
Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Colorado, says federal prosecutors are keeping a close eye out for any changes in drug movements. He, too, has heard anecdotes about drivers leaving Colorado being profiled but has no examples.
“It’s an area of concern, and it’s a priority that the Department of Justice has told us to engage in,” he says. “There is a concern about people visiting this state and taking their marijuana home with them.”
Back on the Wyoming border, Bonnie the drug dog dozes in the back of the marked Tahoe while Germain patrols I-25 and worries aloud about balancing drivers’ constitutional rights with highway safety. He’s more worried about stoned drivers than smugglers, he says, and won’t be pulling anyone over without justification. The Colorado State Patrol is training about 60 new troopers in how to recognize stoned drivers â€” an effort to catch them before they cause crashes.
Germain says what people do in Colorado is their business â€” just don’t get caught with any marijuana on his side of the border.
“The law is the law,” he says. “We respect that.”