(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Police chiefs from across U.S. come to Colorado to talk pot

LONE TREE — Fairbanks, Alaska, deputy police chief Brad Johnson stepped out of a meeting room Wednesday with the look of a freshman on the first day of class.

“It’s a bit overwhelming,” he said.

Ever since Alaska voters late last year legalized recreational marijuana, Johnson said he and other officials in the state have been rushing to catch up with the soon-to-be-enacted law, a scramble that led them to the Lone Tree Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.

There, about 500 law enforcement officers, regulators and government officials from across the country — including, Johnson said, about 40 from Alaska — gathered for the first day of a three-day conference on the lessons and consequences of marijuana legalization in Colorado.

The conference is being hosted by the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and will feature panels on marijuana-infused edibles, the dangers of hash oil extraction and post-legalization home marijuana grows — topics that are familiar in Colorado but foreign to cops in many parts of the country.

Erie Police Chief Marco Vasquez said the goal is to share Colorado’s hard-earned knowledge on legalization with officials from around the country.

“The over-riding message,” Vasquez said, “is, ‘Don’t underestimate whether marijuana legalization will occur in your community or state.”

Scheduled speakers at the conference include former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, Colorado U.S. Attorney John Walsh and Barbara Roach, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s top agent in the state. Conference panels and speeches are closed to the media. Vasquez said conference participants wanted to have an open conversation about legalization.

A spokesman for Walsh, the state’s top federal prosecutor, said Walsh’s remarks Wednesday focused on the importance of collaboration between state, local and federal officials.

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All of the scheduled speakers at the conference are from Colorado. But Ken Corney, the police chief in Ventura, Calif., said law enforcement officials from other states will also be able to add their perspectives. Corney said California, “discovered the unintended consequences and impacts of things that weren’t properly vetted,” with its laws for medical marijuana businesses, which are not subject to the same kind of statewide regulations in California that they are in Colorado.

Johnson said he expects the conference to be invaluable as Alaska law enforcement officials prepare for the state’s first marijuana stores, which are expected to open next year.

“We’re just trying to figure out what comes next,” he said.

John Ingold: 303-954-1068, jingold@denverpost.com or twitter.com/johningold

This story was first published on DenverPost.com