MCT: Kansas braces for effects of Colorado marijuana vote

11/13/2012

By FRED MANN

By FRED MANN

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — Colorado voters on Tuesday added another recreation to the state that they expect will make tourism go higher, as well as the tourists.

But Kansas law enforcement officials want to remind tourists from Kansans who venture next door seeking to take advantage of that state's new amendment legalizing recreational marijuana not to bring any of the pot they purchase back home.

"It's still illegal in the state of Kansas," said Lt. Josh Kellerman, of the Kansas Highway Patrol. "It is an arrestable offense. You can be taken to jail if you're in possession of it."

And don't plan any shopping sprees just yet. It will be more than a year before stores in Colorado will be able to sell pot.

The amendment allows people 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants in their homes. It also sets up a process to allow marijuana to be sold at retail stores.

But, while the amendment is expected to go into effect by Jan. 5 once Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs off on it, the first stores aren't likely to start selling marijuana until January 2014. The state's General Assembly, which meets from January to May, must pass legislation creating the regulations for such businesses. Then lawmakers and the state Department of Revenue will have until July 1 to adopt the regulations.

The state would begin accepting and processing license applications for sales by Oct. 1, and stores probably wouldn't open until the first of the following year.

And all of that assumes that Colorado will be able to work out some sort of arrangement with the federal government, which still holds that marijuana is illegal.

It isn't clear what impact the measure would have on Kansas. Kellerman said state troopers will continue to do what they are doing with no changes, including issuing DUI citations for drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs and arresting them for possession.

"There is always the likelihood that if it's coming through Kansas on a highway, you could see an increase (in violations)," he said. "To ultimately say how it would affect us, I just really don't know."

Kansas counties that border Colorado could be the first to feel any impact. In Hamilton County, where U.S. 50 passes into Colorado, Sheriff Richard Garza fears for traffic safety.

Even though his area isn't as busy as those along I-70, he said, "I'm sure we'll end probably arresting more people, whether they're impaired, or finding marijuana in their possession."

There is also a risk that youths from the county will start taking quick shopping trips across the border.

"I wouldn't be surprised if that does happen," Garza said. "I'm sure that's going to happen on all four sides of Colorado."

But if they bring it back, he said, "It's against the law. If we catch them, they will be arrested."

Those in Kansas who have been pushing for laws to legalize marijuana for medical purposes felt bolstered by the vote in Colorado. They just hope state legislators begin to loosen up about it as well.

"We all go skiing in Colorado. We take vacations there. Their society hasn't dropped off the earth since they did this," said Esau A. Freeman, of Wichita, who is director of the Kansas Medical Cannabis Network. "Hopefully this will allow our legislators to have an open mind."

Freeman said he doesn't see a reason to push for full-blown legalization of pot in Kansas right now. However, there are medical needs for it, he said. Efforts to pass laws legalizing marijuana for medical use, including one during the last session, have failed so far, but his organization already is planning more efforts.

A more important election result for his organization on Tuesday was the defeat of Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr by Democrat Nile Dillmore, Freeman said. As chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Landwehr was regarded as the main obstacle in passing medical marijuana legislation, he said.

The new Colorado measure probably won't lead to an increase the amount of marijuana brought into Kansas by patients who use it for medical purposes, Freeman said. Most don't have funds to drive to Colorado and purchase it there, he said. Besides, there already are plenty of ways it comes into the state.

"There are thousands of pounds of marijuana that come into Kansas on a regular basis," he said. "The people that smoke it in Kansas are going to continue to smoke it."

It's just that patients will continue to feel like criminals when they do it.

"It'll all have to stay underground until our legislators are willing to allow us to come out into the sun," he said.

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