Marijuana: Nebraska Cops Think Tougher Penalties Will Stem the Flow of Colorado Pot

We've frequently reported stories of law enforcement officials in neighboring states complaining about an ongoing swarm of cars loaded with Colorado pot. Most vocal among them are Nebraska's state troopers, who seem to get ink every few months by demanding that Colorado taxpayers cover the overtime duty they incur while keeping their state free of marijuana (in their minds, at least). And they're beating the drum again this week, although talk of getting money out of this state seems to have died (for now).

See also: Driving Stoned: Are Field Sobriety Tests and Drug Recognition Experts the Next Big Step?

Yesterday, Nebraska cops and troopers lobbied that state's Senate Judiciary Committee for assistance identifying stoned drivers and people transporting marijuana from Colorado through Nebraska. Cops testified that they have seen the potency of pot in Nebraska skyrocket along with prices, and they're demanding more help in border towns. Discussion focused on Sedgwick -- home to about 150 people and Colorado's eastern-most recreational marijuana dispensary, Sedgwick Alternative Relief. Owners of that shop say they are catering to law-abiding Coloradans and visitors; Nebraska officials argue that the shop is aimed squarely at Nebraskans who want to avoid a four-hour drive to Denver for weed.

Nebraska cops are now pushing for harsher penalties for those caught with any amount of herb. Ryan Spohn, a researcher with the University of Nebraska's Center for Justice Research, insists that increasing the severity will deter crime. "Individuals do not believe that they will be caught," he testified. "The severity of the punishment doesn't matter, because they do not believe that the punishment will occur."

Spohn's comments echo those made by Nebraska state senator Ken Schilz earlier this year. Schilz said he will carry legislation next session to increase penalties for those caught with small amounts of marijuana. In other words: If you're bringing pot across state lines for your own personal use, the state should save you from yourself by arresting you and making you a criminal.

At least one Nebraska lawmaker questioned the searches, hinting that local cops might be a little overzealous with their enforcement of the laws. State senator Al Davis said he would sponsor legislation in the coming session to deal with the funding issues, but added that he wanted to move forward with some caution, noting that increasing penalties could cause tremendous damage over what could amount to personal amounts of herb. "Are we ruining people's lives who are really going to be good people down the road? I don't think any of us want to do that," he told the Omaha World-Herald after the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting. "I'd like to find a middle ground to send a message to people that Nebraska's not a marijuana-friendly state, but not destroy somebody's life. When I hear that people might have a felony for a marijuana brownie, I'm not sure I want to do that to anybody."

Currently, possession of up to an ounce of cannabis is a civil infraction in Nebraska that carries up to $300 in fines. Subsequent offenses for those amounts can land offenders in jail for a week. Have more than an ounce but less than a pound and you're looking at three months in jail and $500 in fines. More than a pound is felony territory, with up to five years and $10,000 in fines. Sales of any amount bring felony charges with a mandatory year in jail all the way up to fifty years in the slammer and $50,000 in fines if you're caught selling near a school. Possessing any amount of hash or concentrates is a felony, with penalties of up to twenty years in jail and $25,000 in fines depending on how much you've got and if cops determine that you're possessing with intent to distribute.

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes