On January 1, of this year, recreational marijuana use within the state of Colorado became legal. For many students at Fort Hays State University Colorado is home and while marijuana may be easy to find in Hays, the changing state laws in Colorado may change the perception of marijuana here, but not the law.
“Understand the state of Kansas did not change its laws, so the appropriate laws and penalties are still in place,” said FHSU police chief Ed Howell.
“From my view there has been no specific strategies to deal with [changing Colorado laws], Howell said.
The Hays Police Department generally has not changed the way they approach enforcement either.
“We haven’t put together a task force or ramped up any specific training,” said Brian Dawson, assistant Hays chief of police. “Its something we deal with and will continue to deal with as it arises.”
Neither Howell nor Dawson felt that at this time there was any reason to assume marijuana usage in Hays would increase due to the changing laws in Colorado.
While the drug is still strictly illegal in the State of Kansas, it can be easily acquired locally, and a major concern surrounding use is driving while impaired. Even in Colorado driving while under the influence of even a small amount of Marijuana can bring harsh punishments. In Kansas officers are trained to recognize drivers under the influence of Marijuana, and similar to an alcohol impairment, drivers under the influence of marijuana will be detected by a field sobriety test according to Dawson and officers can then do additional testing on a suspect.
For students living in the dorms of FHSU, while the smell of marijuana may be familiar, it is not just members of the police force that could cause a search of a room of a marijuana user, and punishment for use on campus can be severe.
“If maintenance happens to go through [the dorm] and they find something that’s concerning they may or may not call,” Howell said.
“With our residential life staff we have what we refer to as a drug recognition program, we show them a variety of different things we are seeing, some of the controlled substances, some of the paraphernalia and we also do a controlled burn so they are aware of what the smell is and they know if they smell or suspect marijuana they will know notify our department,” Howell said.
“Your room is still your room, you still have a certain right,” Howell said. “There has to be probable cause before we would go into your room and look for something of that nature.”
“You have a certain expectation and degree of privacy,” Howell said.
For FHSU students from Colorado that may think about bringing marijuana back for personal use or with the intention of reselling should be aware that while there is no current policy by the highway patrol to increase drug search activity around the boarder, fines and punishment in Kansas is steep. Possession of 1 oz., the maximum a Colorado resident can by in that state can net one year of jail time in Kansas and up to a $2,500 fine. For someone taking it step further, any cultivation activity in Kansas is punishable by 138 to 204 months in jail, with a fine that is up to the judges discretion. Marijuana sales in Kansas carry a mandatory minimum of a year in jail, even on the first offence.
There are potential academic consequences to students found using marijuana as well.
FHSU university punishments very depending on the criminal prosecution of the crime, but Kansas Board of Regents policy allows expulsion if the crime is of sufficient severity to warrant it.
On the other side of the argument the legalization in Colorado has many in Kansas pushing for legalization efforts here in Kansas.
Editorials and questions in recent days have been written and asked, and another neighbor of Kansas, Missouri may have marijuana on the ballot as early as 2014.