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CO Sheriffs Debate Pot Legalization


It's been six months since selling marijuana officially became legal in Colorado. And now county sheriffs across Colorado are dealing with how to enforce the new law. That issue played out during a bi-annual sheriffs’ conference held in Aspen last week. Dorothy Atkins has the story.

Last year, Colorado voters passed Amendment sixty-four, which made the sale of marijuana legal. While Colorado voters approve of pot, most of the state's county sheriffs oppose the new law.

Shane Heap, the sheriff of Elbert County, says he's witnessed the negative impacts of legalizing marijuana first hand.

"We've seen a huge increase in the marijuana use in schools. Our DUIDs have gone up significantly — that's driving under the influence of drugs.”

Heap says he's also seen a jump in the number of people who visit Elbert County from out of state just to purchase marijuana and drive it across state lines, where weed is still illegal.

"We know we're not supposed to do it — but the laws are in direct conflict with each other."

While it's legal to buy and sell marijuana in Colorado, the federal government still considers weed a schedule one controlled substance — meaning that it has a high potential for abuse. That contradiction bothers Heap.

"The biggest problem that I have with it is when we take a Sheriff's Oath we say we're going to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Colorado — well that's pretty difficult to do when they're in direct opposition to each other."

Heap isn't alone in his frustration. During a sheriff's conference held in Aspen last week, most of the sheriffs spoke against making weed legal, including Ken Putnam, a retired sheriff from Cheyenne County.

"I voted against it. I'm not in favor of it. I don't think it's a good idea.”

Before he became sheriff, Putnam worked as a state trooper for eleven years. He says his experience has taught him to be wary of marijuana use.

"When I was a trooper we stopped some guys on I-70 one day, I asked the passenger when was the last time he smoked marijuana and he said, 'Oh, a couple of days ago.' I said, 'You know that crap will destroy your brain cells,' and he said, 'Ya, but they'll grow back after a while.' I said, 'No, they're not like fingernails. When they're gone they're gone.' But that's the perception out there - 'oh if I get off of it for a while, I'll be just be like I was before.' That's not the way it is.'"

Cheyenne County has a moratorium on pot shops, so Putnam says he hasn't witnessed the impacts of making marijuana legal in his home county. Still, he thinks state lawmakers are sending the wrong message to younger generations.

"There are too many variables out there in how to fix people in the long run. They want to sit on the couch and eat cheetos and watch the boob-toob. It takes people initiative away from them, I think. There are exceptions I think. There are CEOs that have smoked marijuana and they are successful in life. But it's not that way for everyone.”

At the sheriff's conference, nearly every speaker had something negative to say about legalizing weed. Well, every sheriff except one.

Aspen's own Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo focused on finding solutions to problems caused by marjunana.

For example, DiSalvo offered his deputies to escort pot shop owners to banks if they need to deposit cash. Nearly all marijuana stores are operate as cash only businesses, because most banks won't loan the stores money.

Many sheriffs — like Putnam and Heap — disagree with DiSalvo's approach.

"I can relate to the fact that he's providing safety for his citizen, but no I don't."

"Joe and I are good friends but I wouldn't do that. We don't even take custody of it at any point, so no I wouldn't be able to help with a money drop of a federally illegal activity."

Still, DiSalvo doesn't let the differences of opinion bother him.

"Although 63 may disagree with me, I have to listen to the people of Pitkin County. I take their ideas and suggestions — the other sheriff's — but I don't need to implement them, or necessarily want to implement them in some cases. It's the will of the people.”

In May, Pitkin County Commissioners approved emergency measures that placed a moratorium on marijuana shops in the county.

The new ordinance allows for license renewals and for conversion of licenses between retail and medical marijuana. Still, those measures require a public hearing before approval.

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