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State Pot Laws Raise Questions, No Answers

The new measures legalizing recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington have raised a multitude of questions for state law enforcement officials due to their conflict with federal law.

Those who commented for said it’s unclear exactly how, when, and even if, these new laws can be implemented, and what they mean for police at this time.

“We really don’t know, I wish I had an answer for you,” said Canon City Chief Paul Schultz with the Colo. Law Enforcement Officers Association. “We’re waiting to see how the U.S. Attorney’s Office interprets it.”

Schultz said his group certainly has concerns about the  law. “I was against Amendment 64,” he said. “I think it’s a slippery slope, and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the people here.”

Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz, also of the Colo. Law Enforcement Officers Association, presented similar sentiments.

“I’m frustrated that it even passed,” he said. “It’s like a slap in the face to law enforcement.”

Regarding implementation of the law, “As far as my office is concerned, we’re taking a wait and see approach,” he said.  He said state law enforcement officials are trying to arrange a meeting with state and federal legal authorities to figure out how to follow through.

“I think there’s a lot of confusion with this,” Jantz said.

As for any immediate effect, that may vary by agency, he said. Some, including his own, had already backed off of marijuana enforcement to focus on other drug issues. “Other agencies have still continued to do a strong enforcement action so things may change for them,” he said.

While officials in Colorado are taking more of a wait and see approach, those in Washington are actively pressing forward, according to Mitch Barker, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“We’re going to have to move through this,” he said. “It’s not our place to question state laws, but to try to get them implemented.”

He said the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which will be the regulatory agency for the state marijuana industry, is in the rules making process. His group is setting up meetings with peer groups, legal advisors and federal partners, and “making a long list of questions and then trying to get answers to those questions.”

Those questions include:

-When does the law go into effect?

-What do we do in the interim?

-Are prosecutors likely to make charges in the interim?

-What is probable cause for driving under the influence?

-Where do we transport for blood testing, and how is that handled?

-What are our internal policies going to be?

-How will this affect any federal grant dollars?

-Will the federal government agree to fingerprint marijuana growers as the law requires for state licensing?

-If a K9 smells marijuana, will that be probable cause for a search, given that a dog can’t determine quantity?

“It will be an interesting navigational process,” Barker said.

His group had also opposed the Washington measure.

“There are potentially millions in profits – that’s what drove this, not public safety,” he said… “We think it has public safety implications and resource implications, and think the DUI piece is not well thought through. But, we will go forward to try to implement the best policy we can on it.”

“Six months down the road or so we’ll have a better idea what this looks like,” Barker said. He acknowledged that at this point, everyone is speculating as to whether the outcome will be good or bad.

“I just wish someone else had been the first laboratory,” he said.