On Special Assignment

Feb 21, 2013 9:11 AM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

Local cops watching as pot legalized in WA, CO

MISSOULA - Legal marijuana might available a little more than two hours west of Montana, but local law enforcement agencies aren't expecting immediate problems from the drug's expanded availability.

In Seattle, and all across the Evergreen State, Washington is adjusting to the sweeping changes coming with the voters' decision in November legalizing marijuana.

The application of those new rules is still in a state of flux, but it's already clear legal pot promises to change the Northwest's criminal, medical and political landscape.

The question remains on how those changes are going to filter through to neighboring states like Idaho and Montana.

This is not the first time different marijuana rules in one part of the Northwest created impacts elsewhere.

British Columbia liberalized its laws nearly a decade ago and when that happened, it was Washington that felt the impacts, with law enforcement seizing millions of dollars of high quality "B.C. Bud" smuggled across the border.

However, the Washington law change, coupled with legal marijuana in Colorado, isn't setting off alarm bells. It does however have Montana law enforcement expressing some concern and promising to stay vigilant.

"There is an elevated concern given the fact that simultaneous with Washington's passage of new laws we had similar laws being passed in Colorado," Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir explained.

"And of course we're connected between Washington and Colorado by interstate highway systems, which have long been a traditional method of trafficking of marijuana. So we won't be changing the tactics we use in terms of interdiction. It will be business as usual," he added.

Interstate 90 is already well-known a drug pipeline even without the law changes in Washington and Colorado.

Although there haven't been any recent large marijuana apprehensions in the Missoula area, Northern Idaho authorities caught a smuggler with nearly $400,000 worth of pot near Kellogg earlier this winter.

But that type of trafficking on I-90, and even old Highway 10 before it, is nothing new according to Missoula County Sheriff Carl Ibsen.

"Missoula has always been enough of a focal point of the drug world anyway that I don't see that is going to be a significant difference."

I-90 is not the only concern, with Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman saying he's also worried coming up U.S. Highway 93 through Salmon, and the relative isolation of Eastern Idaho.

Because of theat, Hoffman has decided to have two officers specially trained in marijuana interdiction.

The focus isn't just on marijuana smuggling though. The local cops all send the message to UM students and anyone from Montana headed west to party, keep the pot on the other side of the Panhandle.

"It essentially comes down to, I guess the message they should understand is that if they don't leave it at the border then they aren't immune from Montana's laws," Muir said.

"I suspect if I was a consumer I'd move to a state that's more friendly towards it, because we aren't," added Ibsen.

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