Photo via Richard Bauer
Cannabis may be legal in some form or fashion in over half of the US, but in Middle America, the West Coast cash crop is still fairly taboo and incredibly illegal. While state officials in California and Colorado have been busy issuing licenses and regulating weed like alcohol, cops across America’s northern corridor have reported huge increases in marijuana seizures and interstate trafficking, a persistent problem they say is all thanks to states legalizing the plant.
According to CBS affiliate KBOI, Idaho State Police confiscated 1,375 pounds of cannabis between 2016 and 2017 — more weed than the department had confiscated in the previous three years combined. With canna-legal states Washington, Oregon and Nevada all neighboring Idaho, cops say the trend has steadily increased every year since the West Coast’s legalization dominoes started tipping, despite federal statistics claiming otherwise.
"We're seeing a huge increase in possession throughout the state of Idaho and also seeing an increase in trafficking cases," ISP Trooper Jason Maxfield told KBOI. "It's no coincidence at all. In 2016 alone we seized 507.8 pounds of marijuana and between ‘16 and ‘17 we've seized 1,375 pounds of marijuana."
Further east, highway patrol officers in North Dakota and Minnesota report similar issues, claiming cannabis reform has completely changed the policing landscape.
“I think this is a new reality,” Capt. Bryan Niewind, commander for the North Dakota Highway Patrol’s southeast region told the Bismarck Tribune. “You’re going to see more of this in the news.”
Most recently, sheriffs in Stutsman County, North Dakota stopped a pickup truck carrying 476 pounds of cannabis. North Dakota and Idaho are some of America’s most rural states, but with customers in East Coast cities like New York still paying top dollar for West Coast bud, the northern states have become prime thoroughfares on weed’s black market pipeline.
“The problem is those drugs may pass through here, but eventually they find their way back here,” Stutsman County Sheriff Chad Kaiser told the Bismarck Tribune.
In Minnesota, which sits right next to the Midwest hub of Chicago, law enforcement officers say they too have seen more weed cross state lines, but that convicting traffickers is harder than just sniffing out bales of skunk.
With state law requiring “reasonable, articulable suspicion” to continue a search a car, officials in Otter Tail County, Minnesota had to release three suspects found with 570 pounds of shrink-wrapped weed because proper protocol would never have uncovered the drugs.
“It’s going to take more than this guy is super nervous and they have plates from Oregon,” Michelle Eldien, chief deputy for Otter Tail County Attorney’s Office told the Bismarck Tribune. “You have to have more than a hunch to get into the cars,” Eldien said. “That’s where all the case law is getting hot.”
Of course, if America’s northern cops truly wanted to cut down on cannabis trafficking, they would begin lobbying to legalize the plant for adult-use in their own states and across the nation. If prospective ganjapreneurs in North Dakota, Minnesota, and New York were able to produce legal weed locally, demand for black market bud would presumably disappear.
Additionally, rural states could use legal cannabis to help combat the the continuing opioid epidemic — a drug trafficking problem that is severely impacting local communities and increasing overdose deaths.
But, those reforms would make too much sense, and outmoded policing procedures will instead see only more cannabis arrests, with northern states flexing the power of prohibition’s outdated assault on weed.
"Even though marijuana is legal in surrounding states,” Maxfield told KBOI, “In Idaho, it's still illegal and we will strictly enforce it."