Wyoming law enforcement officials have begun closely tracking arrests involving marijuana, they said Wednesday, and they plan to take an educational approach toward an expected influx of the drug since its legalization in Colorado at the beginning of this year.
The Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, a group of more than 100 leaders of law enforcement agencies across the state, announced the plan at a news conference in Casper on Wednesday.
The group is meeting for a three-day leadership conference at the Best Western Ramkota. The announcement was made in conjunction with the official release of the 2013 Alcohol and Crime in Wyoming report, a detailed document that tallies the number of arrests that involved alcohol and other drugs in the state.
The statistics are gathered at detention facilities, where inmates are interviewed after their arrests. Currently, the group tracks alcohol- and meth-related arrests closely, but all other drugs are lumped into a single category. Moving forward, marijuana will receive its own category.
“Tracking the number is the first step in making good decisions on it,” said Rich Adriaens, the president of the association and Sheridan’s chief of police.
“Any time you have a substance like marijuana become more available, there’s going to be increased use," Adriaens said. "With increased use, you have more intoxicated people, and that increases crime.”
Adriaens also cited a study published in August 2013 by Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a group based in Colorado. The study found that from 2006 to 2011, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased by 114 percent.
Adriaens said that along with beginning to track marijuana-related arrest numbers, the group plans to combat increased marijuana-related crime through educational methods, though he did not lay out any specifics.
“When you educate people, we find that they make the right choices when they have the right info,” Adriaens said.
Regarding the report as a whole, the group found that in 2013, alcohol and drugs were involved in 77 percent of the arrests in the state. Before last year, that number had held steady at 79 percent every year since 2010.
That 2 percent decline was fueled by a decrease in the number of alcohol-related arrests in the state last year. At the same time, drug-related arrests across the state jumped by 2 percent of the previous year in 2013.
In 2013, state law enforcement tallied 18,760 arrests leading to incarceration.
The 2013 report is the eighth report from the group, which began gathering data in 2005.
“Every year we do it, it’s more valuable,” Adriaens said.
He said the group looks to identify long-term trends and can track how certain initiatives affect those trends.
“It’s a useful tool,” he said.