Know someone thinking about traveling to neighboring Colorado to pick up a small stash of newly legalized marijuana?
Consider a bit of advice from Cimarron County Sheriff Kevin McIntire, whose Oklahoma Panhandle county sits hard against the Colorado border.
McIntire expects to see a boost in the number of buzz seekers passing through his county after 53 percent of Colorado voters last week voted in favor of Amendment 64. When it takes effect in 2014, the new law will allow anyone over 21 to buy up to an ounce of marijuana from specialty retail stores in the state.
U.S. 287 comes straight out of Denver through Cimarron County and on toward the Dallas area. McIntire said the easy availability of marijuana in Colorado is sure to create a steady flow of customers traveling through his rural county of about 2,500 residents in farthest western Oklahoma.
McIntire speaks from experience. During his two years as sheriff, he said about a quarter of his department's marijuana arrests involved state-authorized medical marijuana users from Colorado. Most are the result of traffic stops on U.S. 287.
“Most of the time they either believe it's perfectly fine to have it because of their card from Colorado,” McIntire said. “Once it's explained to them, they're not usually happy with the fact they're going to go to jail.”
New markets opened
Agents for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control have seen a steady flow of drugs out of Colorado since passage of a 2010 law involving medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, spokesman Mark Woodward said.
A similar pipeline opened across the state about a decade ago when California approved marijuana for medical use.
“We have seen large loads of high-quality, bulk-processed marijuana coming across Oklahoma highways to the East Coast for sale,” Woodward said.
Passage of the new recreational use law in Colorado opens up the availability for new markets all over the country, Woodward said.
He pointed out the strong demand for the high-potency, medical-grade marijuana, which he described as “some of the most powerful grown on the planet.”
“There's going to be people willing to step in and try to profit off it … knowing that I don't have to do a back-alley deal to get Mexican marijuana, I can simply drive to Colorado and get some of the best there is,” Woodward said.
As more states legalize marijuana use and availability increases, so will illegal trafficking, Woodward said. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., now allow medical marijuana, while Colorado and Washington last week became the first two states to legalize recreational use.
Federal law, as well as Oklahoma law, still says marijuana is illegal.
“Whether it's coming from Chihuahua, Mexico, or Colorado or Sacramento, (Calif.), we're going to deal with it the same way,” Woodward said. “It's illegal here, and if they bring it through the state, they're going to get the same punishment as any other trafficker or distributor.”
Norma Sapp, Oklahoma state director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, agreed some will try to take advantage of Colorado's new law.
“I'm assuming there probably will be stupid people that will try to bring it back in to Oklahoma,” she said.
Still, she believes that more and more, attitudes about marijuana use are changing. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of Americans favored legalizing marijuana use while 46 percent were opposed.
Sapp, of Little Axe, said she's been fighting for legalization of medical marijuana in Oklahoma since 1990. She believes average Oklahomans, for the most part, are indifferent to the issue. Her challenge, she said, is convincing lawmakers subjected to decades of drug war rhetoric. Sapp thinks this could be the year. She's hoping a legislative study on medical marijuana use will provide the evidence needed to convince legislators.
“I think they're just ignorant,” she said. “They don't know the truth.”
Until lawmakers are swayed, McIntire's four-man sheriff's department out in Cimarron County expects to keep busy with those seeking to get high. On any given day, about 95 percent of the county jail's occupants are out-of-towners who were just passing through. As for those found with small amounts of marijuana? Expect a fine and consider bringing a good book. Simple possession of marijuana is usually a misdemeanor in Oklahoma.
“They usually have to spend a night or weekend in jail,” McIntire said.