By Chuck Raasch, USA TODAY
States neighboring Colorado and Washington are wondering how much
marijuana will spill across their borders after voters in those two
states legalized its recreational use in November.
They vow to arrest and prosecute marijuana possessors even if the product is purchased legally across state lines.
Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor under federal law, and selling it in any amount is a federal felony.
Obama said last month that "we have bigger fish to fry" than going
after legal pot smokers in Washington and Colorado. The Justice
Department has not said how it will respond or whether it is concerned
about increased cross-border trafficking from the two states.
drug-control advocate predicts that trafficking will increase into and
out of Washington and Colorado, and that could drive down the cost of
"The retail marijuana stores will be in
business to make as much of a profit as possible," says Tom Gorman,
director of the Denver-based drug policy group Rocky Mountain High
Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. "That means selling as much marijuana
as they can to the largest number of people as they can. That will
create a competitive market based on quality and the price of the
Law enforcement officials in neighboring states are
watching as Colorado and Washington regulators decide how the product
can be grown, processed and sold in their states.
"Everyone is aware of the possibility that you could have an increase
(in cross-border traffic), especially for some of our counties on the
border of Colorado," says Lt. Josh Kellerman, a spokesman for the Kansas
Highway Patrol. "People might not understand that while they bought it
legally in Colorado, it is still illegal in our state."
Attorney General Greg Phillips notes that the state's Supreme Court in
2011 ruled that marijuana bought for medical purposes in California
still was illegal in Wyoming.
"I think the same rule applies" for marijuana purchased in states that have legalized it, he says.
Kilmer, co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, says the
amount of cross-border trafficking depends on the shape of Colorado and
"The decisions they make about how many
producers to allow and what type of production to allow will really
shape what the market will look like and shape this whole discussion of
diversion" across borders, Kilmer says. "Are they going to allow four
producers, or 400?"
Kilmer says the federal government could
"influence whether or not large amounts of marijuana come out of these
states." One example: a threat to crack down on large suppliers even in
states where buying the drug is legal.
Kilmer says neighboring
states' responses also will help determine whether cross-border flow of
marijuana to the newly legalized states becomes an issue.
"Does Wyoming on Friday and Saturday nights increase Highway Patrol on the border?" Kilmer asks.
states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana possession for
medical purposes, and 15 states have decriminalized its possession in
small amounts, generally resulting in fines but no jail time.
had done both before voters in November legalized possession of up to
an ounce for anyone 21 and older. Washington allowed medical marijuana
before its legalization vote.
Some drug policy experts say they
believe Colorado has the potential to have more cross-border traffic
issues because of its crossroads location on the continent and because
it borders seven states compared with Washington's two.
is bordered on the south by Oregon, which has both decriminalized
possession and allowed for medical marijuana possession. None of
Colorado's neighbors has decriminalized, and only New Mexico and Arizona
allow medical marijuana.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my
mind Colorado is going to be a source for marijuana in this country,"
says Gorman, whose office is funded through the White House's Office of
National Drug Control Policy. "It has already been with medical
marijuana, which is supposed to be a regulated industry."
His office reported in August that drug busts in 22 states and the
District of Columbia were traced to medical marijuana purchases in
Predictions such as Gorman's "accentuate the fact that
prohibition (of marijuana), 75 years of it in the United States, is an
abject failure," says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
compares cross-border trafficking of marijuana with that of Mexican-made
Corona beer. "Americans consume a lot of that, too," St. Pierre says,
"but we don't have any cross-border problems with massive amounts of
Washington will not allow private production.
Colorado will allow each adult to cultivate six plants at a time, but
they can't sell it.
Colorado is wrestling with whether to require
in-state residency to buy marijuana, says Mark Couch, spokesman for a
task force set up by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
Smith, spokesman for the Washington Liquor Board, says officials there
are well aware that "we have three borders" (including Canada), and that
"people are mobile."