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Local law enforcement diving into criminal side of medical marijuana

Local law enforcement agencies have begun having conversations and asking questons about how medical marijuana implementation will affect them.

Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler said he’s been researching the implications since before voters passed Amendment 2 in November.

Despite all his research, he said he still comes up with more questions than answers.

“It’s going to be an ongoing deal,” he said. “We’re going to be doing this for a long time.”

478 pre-filed facility application fees have been sent to the Department of Health and Senior Services, already totaling more than $3 million, but those won’t be officially accepted until August. Patients aren’t able to apply for cards until July.

With the timeline stretching out past the summer and into fall, Wheeler anticipates conversations to solidify later this year. He plans to start having meetings with the Cole County Prosecutor by September or October.

But the more they find out now, the better prepared they’ll be. Wheeler said sheriffs in Colorado have warned mid-Missouri law enforcement that it needs to get out in front of the issue or risk falling behind.

“The public has spoken,” he said. “We need to get behind it now and figure out what we can do to make it work for safety.”

He’s also asking questions about whether people will be allowed to smoke in public, or if smoking in front of children equates to child endangerment. He also wants to know if the department plans to regulate the toxins that are being tested for in the plant.

“These are things that we don’t know,” he said.

He has questions, but he told ABC 17 News that he has concerns, too.

His chief concern is that his department’s call volume will increase. Based on his conversations with law enforcement in Colorado, robbery and theft are big problems.

Wheeler said even without medical marijuana, he’s already understaffed.

“We’re trying to plan ahead going into our budget next year,” he said. “We’ll be able to appropriately budget responses, equipment we might need.”

Money won’t be flowing into the department’s pockets, either. The medical marijuana industry will largely benefit veterans, or at least that’s the intent.

Wheeler said they plan to find out if there will be grants available to offset the additional costs.

The Deparment of Health and Senior Services hasn’t come up with specific regulations that would pertain to how law enforcement should enforce medical marijuana laws, but spokeswoman Lisa Cox told ABC 17 News that some of the draft regulations that deal with facility security and transportation have some guidelines for law enforcement.

She said they have been in touch with many law enforcement entities throughout the state, and have been able to get their feedback and hear their concerns.

“We have to keep the medical marijuana program that we regulate separate from the illegal marijuana use that is already occuring,” she said.

The department does expect to keep open lines of communication with law enforcement to make sure the right people have the product.

“We expect they (law enforcement) will have a lot of their own policies in development to adapt to this amendment,” said Cox.

For now, those specific policies elude Wheeler in Cole County. But he said that’s to be expected, as he’s still digging up more questions about where their perview is.

“You can get overwhelmed with it but the thing is, it’s like anything else, how do you handle it? One bite at a time,” he said. “We get a problem, we look at the problem, we address that problem, we move to the next one.”

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