(Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

‘It is exploding our docket’: Colorado pot takes toll on Oklahoma courts

OKLAHOMA CITY — Law enforcement officials say arrests for marijuana possession in the Oklahoma Panhandle have risen sharply since Colorado legalized the drug in 2014.

Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control, said Colorado’s market is still young, and he expects to see the numbers rise as people interested in illegally distributing marijuana to other states continue to make inroads with drug traffickers.

“You tend to see 200 pounds in duffel bags going to the East Coast from California because they have a black market,” he said. “Those connections in Colorado are still being established.”

In 2013, Colorado interdiction teams seized marijuana headed out of state 288 times, a nearly 400 percent increase compared to 2008, according to a Rocky Mountain High-Density Drug Trafficking Area study. The study found that Oklahoma was one of the top five destinations for Colorado’s marijuana.

As arrests increase, the workload on county court systems also rises, according to prosecutors.

“It is exploding our docket,” said District Attorney Mike Boring, who oversees four counties including Cimarron, Texas and Beaver counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

“It’s just massive,” Boring said. “Cimarron County has been … averaging 37 felony cases per year. That’s what they’ve averaged for the last 11 years. As of today, we’ve already filed 23 cases, and we’re not even to the end of April.” Most of those were drug offenses, he said.

County sheriffs and district attorneys in that region generally agree that most of the marijuana and marijuana products, such as candies, that are confiscated on their highways is in small amounts intended for personal use, The Oklahoman reported. Most of those caught are passing through the area on their way to Texas, according to authorities.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt claimed in a federal challenge that Oklahoma’s criminal justice system has been negatively affected by Colorado’s marijuana laws. Pruitt, who was joined in the lawsuit by Nebraska, argued that Colorado’s decriminalization of marijuana has caused the drug to flow more heavily into Oklahoma.

That lawsuit was dismissed in March by the U.S. Supreme Court.