Kansas counties see more marijuana trafficking

Published On: Feb 04 2014 08:05:14 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 04 2014 09:51:52 PM CST

Interstate 70 is easy access for those coming to and from Colorado. It's also a known place for pot stops. That's why some law enforcement officials say they're seeing more marijuana being traveled on lesser known routes, avoiding the interstate.

"I do feel they think there's less law enforcement on US 36 than I-70, but there's also been a large amount of arrests on US 36," said Cheyenne County Sheriff Cody Beeson.

Cheyenne County, home to about 2,600 people, is nestled along the Colorado border in the northwest corner of Kansas. Sheriff Beeson said the pot problem started before recreational marijuana laws changed.

"Since the passage of legal medical marijuana in Colorado we have seen not only an increase in amount of marijuana on the streets available to buy, but we've also seen an increase in amount of marijuana being transported through our county."

And he's not the only sheriff. Many sheriffs in smaller communities in Kansas tell Eyewitness News they too have seen an increase of marijuana coming in and going through their counties. And with more trafficking of the drug, Sheriff Beeson said they've responded to more accidents.

"We've had more motor vehicle accidents involving people transporting a large amount of medicinal marijuana across the state line," he said.

He shared photos with Eyewitness News of one accident in particular that happened in 2012. A man from North Carolina was traveling with several jars of medical marijuana in his car, taking smaller country roads when he hit a dead end and his vehicle crashed into a concrete barrier. He hid several of the jars of marijuana in a local farmer's field before someone spotted the wreck and came to help.

"Those people are behind the steering wheel in my county and that makes me scared," Beeson said.

In Denver, Rocky Mountain HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area)keeps track of where Colorado marijuana is found outside the state. The director there said it's more likely that criminals will take lesser traveled roads in order to avoid law enforcement.

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"We may find more and more that as publicity gets out there as to where these stops are made, criminals will be avoiding some of the major interstates and go on some of the small roads, which will really tax some of the smaller agencies that have these people going through," said director Tom Gorman.

In a by Rocky Mountain HIDTA, in 2012 Kansas was the #1 place where the drug was destined. According to data by the highway patrol, nearly 7,000 pounds of pot was seized in 2013 on Kansas Highways, though the law enforcement agency couldn't say exactly how much of that is coming from Colorado.

"The only indicator we have is Highway Patrol stops," said Gorman. "That means they have to have a traffic violation , then during the stop there has to be some indicative behavior dealing with drugs and then they get a consent search. Then they have to tie it back to Colorado. So you think with the millions of cars that go across the interstates in Kansas how small a percent that is. So if we're getting 10% that would be a lot."

He said a study of three small counties in Nebraska showed law enforcement in those counties seizing 3X as much as the Highway Patrol. Most of that is dealt with in the county and isn't reported to state agencies.

"We're finding that more and more sheriffs we talk to in particular are very vocal about the fact that this is taking their resources away from other crime," he said. "They're seeing such an increase and it's really costing them a lot of money."

Recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado on January 1st, 2014. Gorman said communities are likely to see even more of the drug as more is bought and sold in the state.

"Your sheriff saw a lot of medical marijuana because it was legal back in 2009, but if that's what was happening with the 'strict' restrictions, what's it going to be like with recreational?" he said.

Gorman said the marijuana coming from Colorado is more desirable than that from Mexico because it is higher quality.

"It's very expensive, we've seen it sell for $5,000 a pound," he said. "The higher the THC, the more desirable it is, the more money you can get for it."

And for many Kansas sheriff's it's taxing on their resources.

"We don't have the resources to stop every load of marijuana that goes across the state border," said Sheriff Beeson. "We have to put our resources to work where it counts and that's protecting our communities in Cheyenne County."

He said he hopes that Kansans will give Colorado a few years to see how the recreational marijuana law plays out there before passing a similar law here.

"Give it a year or two, see how it affects them," he said. "See if it's working the way they wanted it to work and then approach the idea. We have the golden opportunity with Colorado and what they've done to observe how they deal with it and what happens in their state. Then, if people wish to make marijuana legal in the state of Kansas
and do what Colorado did and put it on the general ballot, that's democracy at its best."