Photo by Bulletin graphics
Photo by Channel 9 News, KUSA-TV
Denver television reporter Brandon Rittman waves at the camera during a November post-election report. Rittman is standing in a head-high forest of marijuana plants inside a grower's indoor farm.
In Colorado, the day is rapidly approaching when store owners can sell marijuana over the counter.Retail shops will become legal on Jan. 1, theoretically offering help for New Year’s Eve hangovers and sparking another round of partying to ring in legalization.
Colorado voters approved the medical use of marijuana more than 10 years ago, creating an industry of growers and sellers, most of whom grow the plants year-round in state-of-the-art greenhouses. Now, as retail marijuana ramps up to become a new reality, those growers already know how to grow, cut and package marijuana in all its various strains.
Existing growers of medical marijuana are expanding their operations, often doubling in size, according to news reports.
It was a year ago when Colorado voters moved legalization to retail pot from medical marijuana. Voters okayed pot smoking and personal possession of an ounce or less. They also legalized the growing of three plants in a person’s home. And, the measure allows individuals to have another three plants on hand in their homes, so long as those three plants are not growing. Presumably, the latter three plants can be drying on the shelves.
The limit would allow a good individual grower to have up to 20 pounds of pot for their own use each year, with a potential value around $5,000, according to current estimates from those in the business.
That prospect is sure to light up the eyes of some homeowners.
Here in Nebraska, some people are leading the effort for legalization, hoping our state will join nearly half the other states in the U.S. that allow medical marijuana, if not retail use.
Two petition drives are underway to put the legalization question on the Nebraska ballot next November.
Proponents cite such advantages as higher tax revenues and freedom to self-medicate painful illnesses, not to mention the feeling of elation.
In Colorado, tax income will amount to a significant sum.
Just weeks ago, Colorado voters authorized a 15-percent excise tax and a 10-percent sales tax on recreational marijuana. That tax is expected to generate $67 million a year for the state, The Denver Post reported. Of that amount, 40 percent will go to build new schools. The rest will be used for a new bureaucracy to regulate the production and sale of marijuana, and to treat the ill-effects.
For good measure, Denver, Boulder and a few other cities voted to tack on a city sales tax, which will drive the total tax up to 30 percent of the retail price, the Post said.
Colorado police officers are seeing some ill-effects already, the Post reported. A Denver elementary student openly carried a small baggie of marijuana, seeming unaware that there was anything wrong with having it.
Jeff Grady, a Grand Junction school resource officer, told the Post he has sat in his car at a park near the high school and watched groups of students through binoculars smoking on lunch breaks, or before school.
Marijuana possession is currently the top reason for expulsion in Denver public schools – the cause of 32 percent of expulsions, the Post reported.
In Lincoln County, the new DARE (Drug Awareness Education) curriculum for school students is called "Keep it Real.”
A police officer, designated as the DARE officer, goes to schools to tell students how to identify illegal drugs and admonish them to stay away from them.
The DARE curriculum no longer contains a lesson about marijuana, since marijuana is legal to sell in some states, North Platte Police Spokesman Rodney Brown said.
“The threat of lawsuits by parents receiving it for medicinal reasons was looming, so they didn't even include it in the (DARE) workbook,” Brown told the Bulletin. “We began the Keep It Real curriculum last year in North Platte. We (only) discuss marijuana with students if the topic surfaces, but it rarely does, if at all.”
Brown said police have not seen an increase of pot in local schools, but said that might change after Jan. 1.
Police Chief Mike Swain said he hasn’t seen any increase in use in North Platte from Colorado’s legalization yet, but “that’s not to say it won’t happen.”
Swain said in Scottsbluff, closer to the border, it’s a much different story.
Swain said there seems to be benefits in medicinal use of marijuana by terminal cancer patients and people suffering from glaucoma, but possession is clearly illegal in Nebraska.
“We certainly continue to combat it,” he said. “We do all we can do.”
State troopers frequently bust pot traffickers on I-80, most of whom are eastbound, probably coming from Colorado or California. Troopers typically pull over the vehicles for a traffic violation such as speeding, highlighting the dangers of driving under the influence. Traffickers cannot even obey simple traffic laws to avoid suspicion and arrest.
The change in Colorado laws has also sparked some creative craftiness by would-be pot tycoons for months. Nine months ago, while lawmakers started to wrangle with how to implement legalization, pot dealers and smokers showed their eagerness to get going.
Craigslist ads claimed to be giving away marijuana, but with a legal twist, charging only for delivery, or if a recipient sponsors something or makes a donation.
One ad offered free medical marijuana at Bud’s Worm Farm. The ad said people cannot legally buy pot at this time, but Bud would give it away for sponsorship of his red wiggler worms. Sponsor 100 worms and get an eighth-ounce of pot, a CBS television station in Denver reported.
These reports were first published in the Bulletin's Nov. 13 print edition.
Nebraska petition drives underway
Nebraska voters could consider legalizing marijuana next November in the 2014 general election if either of two petition drives are successful.
Organizers have until July 1 to submit the required number of names on notarized petitions to the Nebraska secretary of state.
One petition would propose legalizing personal, non-commercial cultivation and consumption of marijuana and hemp. It is sponsored by Frank Shoemaker of Furnas County.
The other petition would legalize marijuana for medicinal use. It is sponsored by NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws,) which has its state headquarters at 908 East 4th St., McCook.
To be successful, petition organizers must obtain the valid signatures of 7 percent of the registered voters in the state. That amounts to about 80,000 signatures, according to the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office.
Colorado: Secession considered
Some Colorado voters want to form their own state.
Fed up with the overwhelming political clout of city residents and university students, 11 Colorado counties joined in a non-binding referendum vote Nov. 5 to see if the majority would support seceding from Colorado and creating a new state.
Those residents are coming to grips with the changing demographics of the state and the fact that a majority of the electorate, and as a result the state legislature, no longer represents their ideals and values, Fox31 television in Denver reported.
The vote was relatively close on Election Day. Six counties said no but five said yes, according to the secretary of state.
Support for secession was generally strong (nearing 60%) along the Kansas line in the eastern Colorado counties of Kit Carson, Washington, Phillips, Cheyenne and Yuma.
However, the majority voted ‘no’ in Sedgwick County, which is nestled against the Nebraska panhandle, and Logan County, which includes Sterling. Voters also said ‘no’ in three counties east of the front range -- Elbert, Lincoln and Weld – as well as Moffat County in the far northwest corner of Colorado.
If the people in five counties that voted yes were to secede, they would create a state the size of Vermont, with a population of 30,000 people according to an ABC national report. That would be less than the population of Lincoln County.
The last state to splinter in two was Virginia, 150 years ago. West Virginia seceded in 1863.