Over the last several years, a number of states across the United States have passed laws legalizing the medical use of marijuana. A handful of states have also made recreational use of marijuana legal or are considering legislation that would do so. The State of Nebraska, however, is not one of those states. The possession and/or use of marijuana remains illegal in Nebraska and it appears that will remain the case for the foreseeable future. In fact, marijuana arrests are up in Nebraska and experts believe that legalization in neighboring Colorado may be at least partially to blame.
The Re-Legalization of Marijuana in America
Marijuana has been on quite the roller-coaster ride in the United States over the last century. Many people are unaware that marijuana was legal across the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1930s that politicians began to introduce legislation making marijuana illegal. Although marijuana usage remained fairly steady throughout the middle of the 20th century, that usage was in violation of both state and federal laws. Toward the end of the 20th century, a new movement to legalize the medicinal and/or recreational use of marijuana began to gain momentum across the country. As of 2017, 26 states and the District of Columbia have now passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form or another. Three more states are set to join them in the near future after recently passing laws that legalize marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational use. In fact, seven of those states now allow the recreational use of marijuana for personal use. The trend for the future appears clear; however, not all states are on-board yet. Nebraska is one. That doesn’t mean that Nebraska has not felt the impact of Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. In fact, it appears that the residents of Nebraska are being directly impacted by Colorado’s new laws, whether they like it or not.
Marijuana Arrests Increase
According to a new study conducted by the University of Nebraska, marijuana arrests in western Nebraska climbed after recreational use of the drug became legal in Colorado. The study confirmed reports from sheriffs and prosecutors that more people were being arrested and jailed for marijuana after the change in Colorado law; however, researchers cannot be certain that the change in Colorado law is responsible. Nebraska law enforcement authorities believe that increased enforcement efforts on their part may also play a part in the increased arrests.
Overall, Nebraska’s marijuana arrest rate increased by 11 percent between 2013 and 2014, when Colorado made recreational use of marijuana legal. At the same time, Nebraska increased its budget for enforcement efforts by 11 percent, spending a total of $10.2 million enforcing marijuana laws in the state. Not surprisingly, most of the enforcement budget went to efforts along interdiction efforts Interstate 80.
Counties along the Nebraska-Colorado border, in the Nebraska Panhandle and along the interstate corridor had the highest marijuana arrest rates for the state in 2014, the study found. If Colorado’s policy change was the sole cause, the researchers would expect the arrest data in border counties to be similar, he said, but the rates went in different directions in Deuel and Banner counties.
Banner County, which borders Wyoming, had a pronounced increase while Deuel County had a decrease, even though Interstate 76 comes into the county from Colorado, the study found.
“There’s no question that there’s some sort of impact” from legalization, Spohn said.
Marijuana possession and sales arrests both increased in the period, but most of the arrests were for possession, the researchers found. Possession arrests had been stable before Colorado legalized marijuana but reached a six-year high in 2014, the study found. Sales arrests had been trending downward before increasing in 2014. Among border counties, marijuana sales arrests increased 39 percent from 2013 to 2014.
“Our research thus far doesn’t show the sky is falling or that Colorado is going to lead to Nebraska going to hell in a handbasket, but there does seem to be an impact,” Spohn said.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in the State of Nebraska, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Nebraska criminal defense attorney right away. In Nebraska contact Petersen Criminal Defense Law 24 hours a day at 402-509-8070 to discuss your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney.