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Drug-related arrests are on the rise in Cheyenne County


Courtesy of the Cheyenne County Sheriff's Office

The availability of drugs in the Sidney area and the problems that accompany drug use are the most pressing issues facing local law enforcement, according to Cheyenne County Sheriff John Jenson and Sidney's Chief of Police BJ Wilkinson.

Both agree that marijuana is more available here than it was before the legalization of it in Colorado. Beginning this year, anyone older than 21 can legally purchase recreational marijuana there.

During the first five months of 2014, local law enforcement made the same number of marijuana arrests as they did during all of 2013, Wilkinson said.

"So we're on pace to double or triple the number of marijuana-related arrests in 2014 that we had in 2013," he said.

In the early 2000s, methamphetamine accounted for more arrests in Cheyenne County than marijuana, according to statistics from the Cheyenne County jail. This changed in 2008. From 2003-'09, the number of marijuana arrests in the county averaged in the mid-teens annually. In 2010, the number spiked to more than 40. It jumped to more than 50 in 2011 and more than 60 in 2013.

Although the police and sheriff's offices are making regular marijuana-related arrests, these entities aren't actively seeking marijuana users.

"We're not out looking for the dope," Wilkinson said. "We're stumbling upon these marijuana-related crimes through incidental contact involving other issues."

The marijuana that Jenson said is coming into Cheyenne County from Colorado could open the gateway for other drugs to enter the community.

"Along with the marijuana that's going up, the methamphetamine is also following suit," he said. "Because it's not just marijuana."

Law enforcement made fewer than 10 methamphetamine arrests in 2012. They made more than 30 in 2013.

Besides that, prescription drug abuse and heroin use are also on the rise. Black tar heroin is available in Sidney, Wilkinson said. This drug brings a new breed of problems related to dirty needles. Jenson has never seen a problem with heroin in Cheyenne County during the 20 years he's worked here.

Wilkinson and Jenson believe that heroin is following the path of marijuana coming into Nebraska from Colorado.

"You can make a lot more money selling meth and heroin than you can pot," Wilkinson said. "And it's easier to hide. Smaller quantity, higher price. It's hard to make a million dollars selling pot because you've got to carry it in bales."

Wilkinson believes that the availability of drugs affects Sidney differently than other small towns because of the low rate of unemployment. Because most people here have money, property crime isn't usually the biggest problem. However, violent crime does tend to increase.

"You've got money, but money – as good as it is in our community – it also makes for some bad stuff because everybody's got disposable income," Wilkinson said.

Jenson and Wilkinson believe drugs are affecting the quality of life in the Sidney area.

Marijuana users usually don't become violent, Wilkinson said. However, the new hybrid versions of the drug coming out of grow operations in Colorado can cause hallucinations, so a smoker might use other drugs to try to balance out his high.

"Then they become really unpredictable," Wilkinson said.

Eventually the drug use affects the person's quality of life. His job opportunities become scarce because he can't pass a drug test or doesn't show up for work at all.

"Then they start sacrificing stuff like rent and utility money to buy their marijuana," Wilkinson said.

Or they may be begin taking other drugs, Jenson said.

"Their kids are influenced by it and think that that's become a normal thing so we start to breed a new generation of drug users," Wilkinson said.

The effects of legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado are detrimental to those living in the surrounding states, both officials said.

"It has short-term effect, but the long term is going to be a lot worse," Wilkinson said.


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