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Some note an uptick in marijuana busts near the Colorado-Kansas state line

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, at 11:42 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, at 6:07 p.m.

Sean McAllister has a name for what he’s seen after the first month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado.

“Profiling Colorado-style,” said the Denver-area criminal defense attorney and spokesman for the Colorado chapter of NORML, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws.

Though the evidence is only anecdotal, McAllister and others affiliated with Colorado’s nascent marijuana industry say they believe law enforcement officers in surrounding states, including Kansas, have been targeting people leaving the state with legally purchased pot.

“We’ve heard that police are being much more aggressive in stopping and searching cars,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which represents the state’s marijuana retailers.

People with Colorado license plates may be a particular target, they say.

“I’ve had several clients pulled over by police in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska,” McAllister said. “I think there’s been a lot of profiling of Colorado plates.”

A spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol said it’s too soon to look at arrest records so far this year to see if there has been an uptick from previous months.

But Lt. Joshua Kellerman said the patrol is not doing anything differently as a result of Colorado’s legalization of the drug that was, and still is, illegal to possess in Kansas.

“It’s been business as usual,” Kellerman said. “When we run across it, we take appropriate action.”

A spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which compiles arrest records for hundreds of police agencies throughout the state, is compiling numbers for 2013.

“It will be some time before the January data is received and compiled,” said KBI spokesman Mark Malick.

Calvin Williams, a criminal defense attorney in Colby in western Kansas, said he too has seen an increase in marijuana cases involving small “personal-use” amounts, but he doesn’t believe law enforcement officers have been necessarily told to go after traffic crossing the state line.

“I think individual officers are cognizant of the fact that the law has changed and may be looking out for it more,” he said.

There has been one high-profile case involving two Kansas City women stopped for allegedly speeding in western Kansas after buying marijuana in Colorado. That’s because one of the women fell ill while in the jail in Sherman County and was taken to a hospital, where she died.

Authorities have not said how she died.

The Kansas Highway Patrol arrested the women after finding drugs in their vehicle.

Sherman County abuts the Colorado state line and is the first Kansas county along I-70, the main east-west corridor linking the two states.

Drug arrests in the county were skewed somewhat in January because of warrants being served in several ongoing investigations involving drug dealers. But according to jail booking records for January, nine people not part of those cases were booked into the facility for alleged drug offenses. The records do not note the specific drugs or amounts.

Three of those nine people were Colorado residents, according to the records. Two were from Kansas City, two from Indiana, one from California and one from Kansas.

By comparison, seven drug suspects were booked into the facility in December, and nine in November.

In January 2013, only two drug suspects were booked, according to the records.

Sherman County Sheriff Burton Pianalto did not return calls seeking comment.

Several other Kansas sheriffs in counties along the state line, or along I-70, said they have not noticed an uptick in drug activity since the beginning of the year, nor have they increased their enforcement efforts.

But Larry Townsend, sheriff of Wallace County to the south of Sherman County, said he has “absolutely” noticed a spike in people driving back from Colorado after going there to buy marijuana.

“Some people are driving 800 miles, 1,000 miles to get that high-quality weed,” he said.

And they are not always doing it safely.

“The other night, we had a wreck involving a driver who was high after coming from Colorado,” he said.

Townsend is unhappy to see the trend toward legalizing marijuana and said he hopes Kansas doesn’t follow suit. He said even with legalization of small amounts, there is still going to be a black market for larger amounts of domestically grown and potent marijuana.

West, of the cannabis industry group, said that under the law, Colorado residents 21 or older can legally purchase up to an ounce of marijuana, while out-of-state residents can buy only up to a quarter-ounce.

Otherwise, Colorado’s marijuana retailers are not required to note where customers are from, she said, so it is difficult to say how many people are traveling from other states.

But retailers certainly are seeing out-of-state traffic, she said.

And one thing the lawyers, drug industry representatives and law officers all agree on is that people need to remember that Colorado law ends at the state line.

Williams, the lawyer in Colby, said people who go to Colorado to buy marijuana shouldn’t forget that laws in Kansas and Missouri aren’t as “progressive.”

“When you cross that border, it’s just like stepping back in time,” he said.

To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to trizzo@kcstar.com.

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