Last month, the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a complaint asking the U.S. Supreme Court to void Colorado's marijuana laws because of the negative impacts legal pot was having across the border.
Colorado Representative Tim Dore's new bill doesn't go quite that far. But the proposal, on view below, does call for a new grant program that would provide funding for Colorado counties -- including those, like the ones in Dore's district, that have banned retail marijuana sales -- to offset additional law enforcement expenditures and other costs associated with cannabis.
For much of last year, as we've reported, Nebraska law enforcers and officials have been up in arms about Colorado's marijuana laws. Back in April, for instance, we told you about Nebraska cops asking for Colorado to help pay for marijuana enforcement over the border. At the time, Duell County Sheriff Adam Hayward was quoted as saying, "I don't know what it will take to get someone to stand up and do something to try to get some of our money back,"
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In December, months after Colorado declined this request, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and his Oklahoma counterpart, Scott Pruitt, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to essentially void Amendment 64, the 2012 Colorado measure that legalized limited marijuana sales for recreational purposes in the state. An excerpt from the complaint shared here maintains that "Amendment 64 and its resultant statutes and regulations are devoid of safeguards to ensure marijuana cultivated and sold in Colorado is not trafficked to other states, including Plaintiff States," adding that "in passing and enforcing Amendment 64, the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."
Representative Dore's legislation, officially known as House Bill 15-1090, includes similar language. Here's an excerpt from the document describing the reasons funding could be granted to counties in need:
(a) TO MANAGE THE COSTS OF INCREASED ARRESTS, INCREASED TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS, AND OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITIES ASSOCIATED WITH RETAIL MARIJUANA AND RETAIL MARIJUANA PRODUCTS;
(b) TO DEVELOP AND IMPLEMENT YOUTH MARIJUANA EDUCATION AND PREVENTION CAMPAIGNS AND SERVICES;
(c) TO MITIGATE THE IMPACT THAT THE CULTIVATION, TESTING, SALE, CONSUMPTION, AND REGULATION OF RETAIL MARIJUANA AND RETAIL MARIJUANA PRODUCTS HAS ON CHILD WELFARE AND OTHER SOCIAL SERVICES THAT ARE REQUIRED IN CONNECTION WITH RETAIL MARIJUANA OR RETAIL MARIJUANA PRODUCTS; AND
(d) TO MITIGATE THE IMPACT THAT THE CULTIVATION, TESTING, SALE, CONSUMPTION, AND REGULATION OF RETAIL MARIJUANA AND RETAIL MARIJUANA PRODUCTS HAS ON OTHER SERVICES PROVIDED BY A COUNTY AS DEEMED NECESSARY AND RELEVANT BY THE COUNTY.
From where would the money come? The bill specifies that "beginning on June 30, 2015, and on each June 30 thereafter, the state treasurer is required to transfer 30 percent of the moneys in the marijuana tax cash fund to the county retail marijuana impact fund. The division is also authorized to seek and accept gifts, grants, or donations from private or public sources to be used for the program."
According to Dore, "the makings of this bill came from numerous conversations I've had with sheriffs departments and county health-and-human-services-type agencies. They're seeing the impact of retail marijuana from the pass-through."
The pass-through? To understand what Dore means, it's helpful to take a look at the counties he represents: Baca, Bent, Crowley, Elbert, Kiowa, Las Animas, Lincoln, Prowers and Washington, in the eastern and southeastern part of the state. Many of the counties border neighboring states, including Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, and as seen in this graphic from Colorado Pot Guide, none of them allow retail marijuana sales -- but visitors must drive through them to get to Colorado places that do.
For his part, Dore says he opposed Amendment 64 because "you could see by reading it that so many problems were going to happen and we didn't have a lot in place to deal with implementation issues, from banking to cultural changes to the safety of the youth. It was not prudent for us to do it the way we did."
He believes the negative impacts in the counties he represents proves that his prediction was correct.
Continue for more about the proposed marijuana-impact grant program, including the complete bill. "Traffic coming into Colorado from other states has increased dramatically," Dore points out, "and the sheriffs departments in these counties are very small. They only have a few deputies working at any time -- and they're having to increase the number of people on patrol because of this. And the process of testing for marijuana is also very time-consuming, since you have to draw blood and deal with all the issues that go along with that. There's also an increase in certain behaviors that's creating more need on the law-enforcement side -- but there's no extra money."
In Dore's view, counties also need additional money for youth education that goes beyond efforts that are already being funded on the statewide level: "There are gaps in the immediate need of bringing resources into rural schools that are spread out district-wide, as opposed to the way it is in some of your metro areas."
He's under no illusions that the grant program could cover all the extra expenses associated with marijuana, "but we hope it will offset some of the costs, since this is really impacting county budgets." And even though 30 percent of the moneys in the marijuana tax cash fund may sound like a big slab of cash, he argues that "it's really not that large an amount of money at the end of the day."
The grants would be available to all Colorado counties, whether or not they allow retail marijuana sales, and would "go through the same sort of oversight and transparency you have with other grant programs the state already funds," Dore stresses. "This would just be a new stream of money."
What kind of feedback has Dore gotten on his proposal? Not a lot so far, since the bill has yet to be heard in the local government committee, where it's bound; scheduling is currently underway. But he says "everybody inside the chamber understands that are impacts that our experiment with legal marijuana has created, and a lot of my colleagues are telling me, 'You're going down the right path.'
"This is not about whether recreational marijuana is good or bad," he emphasizes. "This is just making sure that we deal with some of the unintended consequences of the legislation people voted on."
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Below, read House Bill 15-1090.
Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.