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Colorado Marijuana

Partygoers smoke marijuana during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve party celebrating the start of retail pot sales late Tuesday at a bar in Denver. Legal retail marijuana sales - the first in the nation - began Jan. 1 in Colorado.

CHEYENNE -- Law enforcement officials in Wyoming counties that border Colorado are preparing for an increase in marijuana arrests given that recreational use of the drug became legal Wednesday in the neighboring state.

Carbon County Sheriff Jerry Colson said he will host a training session in February for all law enforcement officers in the county to help them recognize impaired driving from use of marijuana and other drugs, as well as from alcohol.

"I know we'll see it, so we're preparing for it," Colson said Thursday.

According to news reports, people are coming to Colorado from all over the country to buy marijuana.

If they pass through Carbon County on their way home and get caught, they could go to jail depending on the amount of marijuana in their possession, Colson said.

Individuals who possess 3 ounces or less of marijuana may be charged with a misdemeanor violation, which is punishable by a penalty of more more than a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

People caught with more than 3 ounces face a felony charge, which carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Colson said local law enforcement officers have arrested people possessing marijuana who held medical marijuana cards. That's because Wyoming doesn't recognize the Colorado medical card.

Colorado officials have warned buyers about taking the drug out of state. But Colson said he doesn't expect all of the users to follow that advice.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol has no plans to increase patrols near the state line to look for people transporting marijuana into the state from Colorado.

"It will be business as usual for the troopers who always are on alert for any criminal activity," patrol Sgt. Stephen Townsend wrote in a media release issued Thursday.

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Albany County Sheriff Dave O'Malley said marijuana arrests surged in his border county after Colorado approved medical marijuana use in 2000, according to the Laramie Boomerang.

O'Malley said he expected another bump in arrests now that recreational use is legal 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 will be busy," he added.

The Cheyenne Police Department started compiling data on marijuana arrests beginning Wednesday, spokesman Dan Long said.

Long had no information on medical marijuana arrests before Wednesday.

He referred to a preliminary study of the impact of the Colorado law. Now posted on the department's website, the study said traffic fatalities in Colorado decreased 16 percent from 2006 after medical marijuana was available and the year 2011.

During the same six years, traffic fatalities involving drivers who tested positive for only marijuana increased 114 percent, the report said.

Calls to the Laramie County Sheriff's Office weren't returned Thursday.

Meanwhile, Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, announced he introduced a bill, H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act and treat the drug the same as alcohol.

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Contact capital bureau reporter Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or joan.barron@trib.com

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