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State on alert as pot goes on sale nearby

Jan 2, 2014 - The Associated Press

LARAMIE -- Wyoming law officers expect an increase in marijuana arrests now that recreational use of the drug is legal in neighboring Colorado.

Shops opened for business in a handful of Colorado cities Wednesday.

Marijuana arrests surged in Albany County, which borders Colorado, after the state approved medical marijuana in 2000, Sheriff Dave O'Malley said. He expects another increase now that recreational use is legal, at least under Colorado law.

"I would be naive to believe that folks aren't going to travel from Wyoming to Colorado to purchase marijuana legally and then transport it back to Wyoming," he said.

"We have two deputies that have certified narcotics-detection dogs, and we fully anticipate that they'll be busy," he said.

Highway Patrol Sgt. Stephen Townsend said he also expects more marijuana traffic on southern Wyoming highways.

"We've seen an increase in it when it was medicinal," he said. "And even though they may have a medicinal certificate from Colorado, they still cannot have it in Wyoming. But we saw a slight increase when that happened, so I'm sure we'll see it again."

Possession of less than 3 ounces of marijuana in Wyoming is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. More than 3 ounces is a felony with a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

O'Malley said he doubts retail sales in Colorado will significantly affect the illegal pot market in Wyoming.

"Anything's possible, but my understanding is the level they're charging for legalized marijuana in dispensaries is probably pretty high, and I don't think you're going to find too many people going down there and buying quantities to subdivide and sell here," he said. "So, I doubt it's going to have a huge effect on the black market."

Neither Albany County nor the Wyoming Highway Patrol has made special enforcement plans because authorities said they don't know how big the effect will be of legal sales in Colorado.

Deputies will make adjustments if necessary, O'Malley said.

"These guys are doing their jobs and certainly they'll be out on the highways, and if there's going to be an increase in that activity, there's going to be an increase in enforcement -- they just go hand-in-hand," he said.

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