marijuana

The availability of recreational marijuana has not created new issues for law enforcement. 

“I think legalization has made usage much more acceptable publicly, but that doesn’t make it OK to drive under the influence of marijuana," cautions Colorado State Patrol public information officer Sgt. Rob Madden.

As municipalities throughout the state continue to address their relationships with medical and retail marijuana, law enforcement agencies are facing their own unique challenges when it comes to issues surrounding retail sales and the marijuana industry.

While some law enforcement officers and agencies say their jobs have gotten a bit more complicated since laws allowing for legalization of marijuana went into effect 18 months ago, most say they don’t see a correlation between hard crime and usage.

“The issue is mostly along political lines,” Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze said. “There hasn’t been anything remarkable in terms of pot being a law enforcement issue that I’ve seen.”

Buena Vista police chief Jimmy Tidwell expressed similar sentiments, saying issues surrounding marijuana are mostly anecdotal, like residents or visitors who eat too much of a marijuana edible and after not immediately feeling the effects, eat more, which often results in an intense and negative reaction to the edibles.

“Don’t eat the whole thing,” Tidwell warned. “You’re not gonna have a good time.”

One of Tidwell’s biggest issues is exposure of edibles to children within town.

“The scariest part to me is the edibles,” Tidwell said. “You get a couple that leaves a marijuana brownie on the table, what’s that 3- or 4-year-old supposed to do? There’s a brownie, they’re gonna eat it.”

While Tidwell warns parents to keep access of marijuana edibles out of sight of children, the police department has not responded to any instances of children accidentally consuming marijuana edibles.

Both Sheriff John Minor of Summit County and Pitkin Sheriff Joe DiSalvo expressed concerns similar to Tidwell’s about the lack of oversight in regards to marijuana edibles.

“If you wanted to put aspirin in a cookie, the FDA would have to regulate it,” Minor said.

“Our biggest problem,” DiSalvo said, “is definitely people consuming marijuana and consuming too much and then freaking out.”

As of February 2015, Colorado implemented it’s first regulations for infused edibles, forcing all edibles sold recreationally to be wrapped individually or marked in increments of 10 or fewer milligrams of activated THC, the state’s recommended dose.

Tidwell’s concerns about youth access to marijuana is reflective of broader concerns throughout the state.

Buena Vista High School principal Brian Yates said that through conversations with students, he believes usage of marijuana is up from even 5 years ago, although there wasn’t a single student actually caught with marijuana on school grounds last year.

Yates said two students were busted with paraphernalia and one student was suspected to be under the influence while in school.

“I do think more kids are using the drug, but I also think they’re respecting the school and not bringing it on campus,” Yates said.

While the BVPD did obtain a new drug dog earlier this summer, Yates said he doesn’t plan on doing any more searches of the school than the usual two per year.

“I rely on trust with my students and staff,” Yates said. “Too many searches like that sends the wrong message.”

In Leadville, police chief Michael Leake said that his department believes usage among teenagers and especially at the local high school has increased, though he did not have specific statistics to corroborate that belief.

“Other than that, the dispensary owners seem to want to do everything by the book. We haven’t had any issues with them,” Leake said.

Sheriff Spezze said that while marijuana usage among teenagers could be problematic, alcohol and prescription medication abuse were both bigger issues, and like marijuana, kids could easily get their hands on those drugs through illegal black market channels or simply by taking them from their parents.

Marijuana, unlike alcohol and prescription medications, doesn’t have as many violent or deadly side effects, Spezze said.

“Alcohol has always been the number one issue, as long as I’ve been a cop,” Tidwell said about his 30 years serving with the Buena Vista Police Department. “With marijuana, you don’t see issues of violent behavior or domestic abuse like you see with alcohol or hard drugs.”

According to numbers released by the Colorado State Patrol, marijuana was involved in roughly 12 percent of the patrol’s driving under the influence cases in 2014. Those statistics have increased slightly for 2015, to around 15 percent. Of the 2,149 DUI cases reported through June 2015, 316 were associated with marijuana.

Tidwell said marijuana was involved in 32 incident reports submitted by BVPD in 2014 and through June of 2015, marijuana was involved in 16 incidents.

Most of these reported incidents, Tidwell said, revolve around people driving after using the drug and especially driving after dabbing.

Dabbing is the act of using a blowtorch to heat a nail in a water pipe and “dabbing” the THC-rich marijuana concentrate on the nail, which results in a more intense high, Tidwell said.

DiSalvo said that in the 18 months that retail marijuana has been legal, his department in Pitkin County has only issued one marijuana related driving arrest.

“I wouldn’t say the job has become more dangerous,” Summit County’s sheriff said. “It’s become more interesting, to be blunt,” Minor said.

Like Chaffee County, retail marijuana sales are not legal within Summit County, though both counties have municipalities within them in which retail pot sales are allowed.

Sheriff Minor said that while he doesn’t think access to recreational marijuana has made the job of law enforcement more taxing, there are some unique issues his agency has experienced surrounding home extraction of marijuana concentrates and home grow operations.

“We were probably the first place in the state to have a house explosion during honey oil extraction,” Minor said. That explosion was in 2008 and he said a second similar explosion also occurred a few years later.

Amateur manufacturers who use flammable liquid chemicals or compressed gas to make marijuana concentrates will be subjected to a Class 2 drug felony charge, per a new state law that went into effect in June.

More than 30 butane explosions were connected to hash oil production in 2014, according to an Associated Press article released in June.

Minor also said his department has experienced a plethora of issues with home-growing operations, usually revolving around odor complaints in residential areas to more alarming concerns about electrical code violations which present fire hazards in these grow houses.

“I don’t think our job is more challenging now,” DiSalvo said. “Marijuana has been part of this community for over 30 years.”

Colorado State Patrol public information officer Sgt. Rob Madden said he believes the CSP officers’ jobs are also not more dangerous or more challenging since marijuana’s statewide legalization.

“I think legalization has made usage much more acceptable publicly, but that doesn’t make it OK to drive under the influence of marijuana.”

Salida Police Chief Terry Clark did not return calls seeking information.

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