KSN Investigates: The pot problem in Kansas

GOODLAND, Kansas – It’s been over a year since Colorado legalized marijuana, and while it’s bringing in revenue for Colorado, it’s causing trouble for other states.

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In 2013, the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area found that Colorado pot was on its way to 40 other states and neighboring Kansas is a popular destination.

Marijuana interdictions, where officers stop a drug from being smuggled, increased 397 percent from 2008 when the drug was still illegal, and that is causing some problems for Kansas law enforcement.

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Sherman County is one of the most affected areas. The county borders Colorado, and for over a year now, the Sherman County Sheriff’s office has been inundated with marijuana-related arrests.

“We have one trooper seems like once a week he’s bringing someone in, and it’s fairly large quantities, I mean we’re talking pounds, not ounces,” said Sheriff Burton Pianalto.

The increase in marijuana cases that Sherman County is dealing with is reflected in the total number of people they’ve booked into jail in recent years. In 2012, before Colorado legalized the drug, that number was 437, but two years later in 2014 it had jumped to 529.

As of April first this year, that number was already at 134 people.

Sherman County Arrests

It isn’t just crowding the jail, but straining a system that isn’t equipped to handle so many cases.

“It’s a tremendous burden,” said attorney Mark de Bernardo, the lead council in a lawsuit against Colorado legalization. “When you think of the time that’s spent for these police officers that are patrolling, and then the prosecuting of that and the court time.”

Pianalto says the pot problem has made it hard to stay within his budget. According to him and local officials arrests and fines don’t make them much money. Of their $193 felony court fee, only $12 dollars goes directly back to the county.

Breakdown of $193 felony court fee for Sherman County

$144 Clerk fees to the state State
$22 Judicial branch surcharge State
$15 Law Enforcement Training Center State
$10 Law library County
$2 Prosecuting attorney training fund County

KSN checked with another county to see how often fines can help supplement a department’s budget and Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier agreed, they really don’t.

“There’s a lot of times where the fines may be $500, but it may cost you $500 to house that person for two to three days and if they end up being in jail for 30 days it’s a lot more than what we get back,” Richmeier explained.

“That creates an expense for the Sherman County citizens and that’s totally unfair to them,” Pianalto said.

Possibly more concerning than a shot budget is that the out of state drug traffic has forced Sherman County to put local cases on the back burner.

Click image to view 2014 Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report
Click image to view 2014 Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report

“At the end of 2014, I had some cases that I needed to work on, but I honestly didn’t have the budget for my officers to work on them,” said Pianalto. “It was local drug dealers dealing meth and we kept working on it, but we couldn’t spend the overtime and expense that we should have been able to.”

Unfortunately though, as long as marijuana continues to flow over the state line Kansas officials have no choice but to intervene.

“It’s not drugs that are the bad thing, it’s people’s choices,” said Pianalto.

The Sherman County Sheriff’s Office, along with sheriffs and county attorneys from Nebraska and Colorado, is currently working to have Amendment 64 overturned.

RELATED LINK | Sheriffs from 3 states including Kansas to sue over Colorado pot law

Their argument is that the federal government has the right to intervene, because Colorado legalization has led to unregulated interstate commerce that is having a negative impact on neighboring states.

Colorado has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

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