Next week, Colorado will usher in a new era when retail marijuana establishments are able to open for business on Jan. 1.
Amendment 64 already allows residents 21 years of age and older to legally carry up to 1 ounce of marijuana on their person — or up to one-quarter of an ounce for non-residents — but Summit County law enforcement officers are preparing for a spike in pot-related arrests in the coming year when the once-illegal drug becomes easier to purchase. They fear people might misunderstand Colorado’s new marijuana laws and smoke pot publicly, which is still illegal.
The Breckenridge Police Department has already been dealing with the problem of people openly using marijuana in public. In 2010, a town of Breckenridge ordinance went into effect decriminalizing the drug. In the years since pot’s decriminalization, Breckenridge police officers have issued three times as many marijuana-related citations than they did prior to 2010.
According to police records, between 2006 and 2009, officers issued 36 marijuana-related citations. Between 2010 and Dec. 2013 Breckenridge police officers issued 96 citations. Arrests also are up slightly since the passage of Amendment 64, with 16 arrests in 2012 and 19 so far in 2013.
“We believe the increase in arrests is a result of an erroneous belief that it is legal to consume marijuana in public,” said Colleen Goettelman, administrative supervisor for the Breckenridge Police Department. “Prior to decriminalization in 2010, marijuana use was part of a private culture and was not in the public eye, but we have seen a jump in the issuance of citations over the last month.”
For fear that public consumption is going to increase once retail marijuana establishments open Jan. 1, Goettelman said the Breckenridge Police Department has been building partnerships with community organizations to help educate the public and visitors about Colorado’s recreational marijuana regulations.
In addition to posting marijuana rules on its website and Facebook page, Breckenridge police created a card featuring facts about the state’s marijuana laws.
The cards have been distributed to the Breckenridge Resort Chamber, lodging and restaurant associations, the CARECouncil, Healthy Futures Initiative and the Breckenridge Ski Resort, among others, to be given to visitors inquiring about marijuana rules.
“We believe that there is the same mistaken belief that public consumption is allowed,” Goettelman said. “As a result, and in anticipation of retail sales on Jan. 1, we are developing partnerships across our community to make sure our citizens and visiting guests have the correct information. Educating the public is a main focus for us.”
Although Breckenridge appears to be facing an upward trend in marijuana-related infractions since the town decriminalized the drug in 2010, law enforcement officers in other parts of the county have experienced the opposite trend, especially since the year 2000 when Colorado voters passed Amendment 20 permitting the medicinal use of marijuana.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor said his department has seen an anecdotal decline in marijuana-related arrests and citations over the course of the last decade. Minor attributes much of that decline to the relative ease of acquiring a medical marijuana card.
“We look at it this way, if we arrest somebody on a warrant and they have marijuana on their person, then we might add the charge if they can’t provide a medical marijuana card,” Minor said. “I think we’ve really seen a drop in marijuana-related arrests since Amendment 20 because everyone seemed to have a medical marijuana card.”
Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickman echoed that sentiment, saying last week there has not been an increase or a decrease in marijuana-related charges, especially in the year since Amendment 64’s passage.
“The number of (marijuana-related) arrests are practically nil,” Wickman said. “But that may change Jan. 1, when retail shops start opening.”
“We believe the increase in arrests is a result of an erroneous belief that it is legal to consume marijuana in public.”
Administrative supervisor for the
Breckenridge Police Department