OMAHA - Researchers from the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) have released a study that has found since Colorado’s approval of medicinal marijuana, there has been a large increase in the number of marijuana-related arrests in those Nebraska counties bordering Colorado, as well as a more moderate increase in those counties along the Interstate 80 corridor, compared to all other counties in the state.
The study, which was written by Ryan Spohn, Ph.D, and UNO doctoral student Jared Ellison from UNO’s Nebraska Center for Justice Research, examined data regarding marijuana-related arrests, jail admissions, county jail crowding and related costs of incarceration for the years 2000 to 2013. This period documents Nebraska’s marijuana-related criminal justice activity since Colorado’s legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana in 2000 and 2012, respectively.
“When I testified at the hearing on this issue in Ogallala last September, sheriffs and county attorneys from border counties predicted that increased drug-related activity would follow the I-80 corridor and spread throughout the state,” Spohn explained. “Our research suggests, however, that non-border counties have largely been immune.”
A copy of the study was given to Nebraska lawmakers over the weekend ahead of a legislative session discussing bills to address marijuana spill over issues in Nebraska on Wednesday, Jan. 28.
According to the report, the counties that border Colorado (Chase, Cheyenne, Deuel, Dundy, Keith, Kimball, Perkins) have been the hardest hit among all of Nebraska’s counties due to the increased number of marijuana offenders.
Their analyses of possession arrests show an increase of just over 145 percent over the 14-year period, jumping from 103 arrests in 2000 to 253 arrests in 2013. For marijuana-sale arrests, the increase was 850 percent; although, the large percent difference is due to the increase from just two arrests in 2000 to 19 in 2013.
The report also shows that along the border counties, marijuana jail admissions have increased by 300 percent over the 14-year period, from 13 admissions in 2000 to 54 in 2013. This is compared to non-marijuana related admissions, which rose 7.8 percent from 1,158 to 1,249.
Although those counties that lie along the I-80 corridor (Buffalo, Cass, Dawson, Douglas, Hall, Hamilton, Lancaster, Lincoln, Sarpy, Seward, York) account for the largest proportion of marijuana-related arrests, they experienced much smaller shifts in their arrest and incarceration numbers.
Among the 11 counties, from 2000 to 2013, possession-related arrests actually fell by a total of nearly 3 percent, (5,732 to 5565) while sale-related arrests increased by nearly 19 percent (228 to 271).
When the researchers considered all jail admissions together, they found that marijuana-related admissions increased 16.5 percent while non-marijuana admissions increased only 1.28 percent.
For those counties that are located outside the Colorado border and the I-80 corridor, some law enforcement activity related to marijuana actually decreased, including a reduction in sale-related arrests by nearly 22 percent from 105 arrests to 82, as well as a decrease in marijuana-related admissions by about 1 percent, compared to a 6.7 percent increase of non-marijuana-related incarcerations.
The only law enforcement activity showing an increase in marijuana-related arrests or jail admissions in the 75 Nebraska counties not on the Colorado-Nebraska border or lying along the I-80 corridor was an increase of possession-related arrested, which jumped 46 percent, from 1007 in 2000, to 1475 in 2013.
“Personally, I was surprised to see such substantial increases in marijuana-related activities corresponding to legalized medicinal marijuana in Colorado.,” Spohn added. “We are eagerly anticipating the data for 2014 to see if these trends increase as a result of the legalization of recreational marijuana.”
The study also looked at the effects on county jail over-crowding and operating costs over the 14-year period.
Researchers found that, despite growth trends in both marijuana-related arrests and jail admissions, there has been an overall decrease in jail crowding by 39 percent along the border counties, 11 percent along the I-80 corridor and 10.8 percent among the other counties in Nebraska.
Despite this decline in overcrowding, the amount of money spent on incarcerating offenders for marijuana-related offenses has increased significantly along the border counties by a rate of more than 1000 percent, jumping from approximately $9,000 in 2000 to more than $105,000 in 2013.
Comparatively, the I-80 counties experienced a decline of 5.4 percent, from $850,575 to $804,809 and the remaining counties experienced a significantly smaller increase than the border counties at just 14.6 percent, from $170,348 in 2000 to 195,205 in 2013.
Overall, the researchers argue that there is an obvious and noticeable upward trend regarding marijuana-related criminal activity in those parts of Nebraska that are closest in proximity to Colorado–whether geographically or through the interstate. Additionally, because data reflecting the legalization of recreational marijuana is not yet available, there may be significant changes to these trends in the future.
The researchers also explain that an updated report will be released as the first year of data reflecting the impact of Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana becomes available.
For questions about the study or the Nebraska Center for Justice Research, please contact Ryan Spohn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402.554.2610.
For media inquiries, please contact Charley Reed at email@example.com or 402.554.2129.
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