“Marijuana investigations are now more time-consuming and complex than they’ve ever been … we don’t have the resources to handle all the problems and complaints we have,” he said.
The side effects of marijuana are extreme, according to Gerhardt. More marijuana is being seized in schools. People are coming in to Colorado, buying weed, and driving straight back out. Potency levels in marijuana are strong, and edibles have been associated with suicides and violent crimes in Colorado, according to Gerhardt. Hash oil extraction attempts have ended in explosions, according to Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith.
“We’ve had some of the dispensaries put in the name of a local Colorado resident with a clean criminal history but it was being funded by Colombian drug interests,” Gerhardt said. “We have other groups that put these businesses in a false name. Or they have held license and diverted marijuana to another state. We’ve seen all that. Whatever scheme you can think of people have found a way to get into the marijuana business here in Colorado and exploit what we’ve started here.”
Gerhardt said that the government didn’t put enough measures in place to ensure that marijuana users were obeying the law.
“There’s also a requirement that anybody with a home-grow is supposed to register those with the state. I don’t think there’s a single person who’s done that,” Gerhardt said.
The conflicting laws of the constitutions have driven Smith, Larimer's Sheriff, to lose sleep, he said, and sue the governor of Colorado.
“It put us in the situation where a state constitutional amendment mandates that sheriffs get involved in certain acts, which are a violation of the federal law,” Smith said. “We have several constitutional conflicts that sit before us and there really is no guidance out there.”
Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith and 11 other sheriffs from Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma, sued Gov. John Hickenlooper over Colorado's marijuana laws. (Photo by Dom DiFurio | News 21)
Smith, along with 11 other sheriffs from Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, sued Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in March. They are seeking clarification from courts on how to properly enforce state marijuana law without breaking their vows to the federal government to keep drugs out of the general population.
Six of the 11 sheriffs are from Colorado, all from counties that have voted against recreational legalization, except Smith, who says that legalization of marijuana in his county has led to problems from an increase in the homeless population to health concerns from poorly maintained home-grows.
“There was a big reassurance to the citizens that this would be well regulated by the state and a lot of ways we’ve seen that’s not been true,” Smith said. “Partially, I think it was a faulty scheme that didn’t come together well, it came together quickly.”
Smith said his officers run into conflicts when they arrest someone who is in possession of marijuana — by Colorado’s law, they have to give it back. But giving marijuana back is a violation of federal law.
“You know, I personally don’t believe that having a stoned workforce and more youth using marijuana is good for our state, good for our nation,” Smith said. “But I’m not the one that makes the laws. However, I can’t be in the position of violating laws in the actions and course of my duties.”
Last December, the states of Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a lawsuit against Colorado, stating Amendment 64 was "devoid of safeguards" to keep pot from crossing state borders and into the black market. In February, anti-drug groups filed suit arguing that Colorado is violating federal laws.
From the plains of Wyoming and Kansas, Colorado’s neighbors aren’t as accepting.
“We’re really on an island here right now where all of our bordering states, they don’t have retail marijuana legalized. All but one don’t even have medical, so that’s got to be a high priority for us as a state is to do everything we can to keep it from crossing the state borders,” Kammerzell of the MED said.
Law enforcement from other states has expressed its concerns, but Colorado says it’s nearly impossible to keep marijuana from crossing state lines. Officers said they can no longer search a person, car or property based on the smell of marijuana. That prevents them from knowing whether an individual possesses a legal ounce or 10 times the legal limit.
“The reality we have is we’ve essentially been declawed,” Smith said. “The best we can typically do is call ahead and tell the neighboring jurisdiction, ‘Hey, we’ve got this and this is where they’re going. If you catch them in your state, the mere possession is against the law.’”
Illegal weed is still pouring in and out of Colorado, but the legal market has put a dent in the black market, according to law enforcement.