Idaho struggles to keep pot smugglers at bay

But, while Oregon and Washington see tax revenue pour in from recreation pot sales, their neighbor to the east is struggling to keep up.

Marijuana has raised millions and millions of dollars for Washington and Oregon since it was legalized. However, it is still outlawed in Idaho and that's presenting a problem.

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – You do not have to look hard to see the big money legal marijuana brings in.

Oregon collected $25 million in 2016 pot revenue. Washington’s marijuana sales have passed $1 billion and Spokane County residents spent more money on marijuana than on wine, bread or milk.

But, while Oregon and Washington see tax revenue pour in from recreation pot sales, their neighbor to the east is struggling to keep up.

Between 2011 and 2015, Idaho State Police saw a huge increase in the amount of pot they seized from people passing through their state.

"We've seen almost, approximately a 1000 percent increase in the amount of marijuana that we've seized in Idaho since it's became legal in Washington," said Idaho State Police Captain John Kempf.

In 2011, ISP seized 131 pounds of marijuana. Then, in 2015 after voters in Oregon and Washington voted to legalize pot, the amount of marijuana seized climbed to 1,644 pounds. Those number only take into account busts of a pound or more.

Many of those seizures came at the hands of Corporal Kevin Kessler and his K9 partner. He said the busts begin as traffic stops, and from there he says they find pot. Often times it is not destined for Idaho, but Washington and Oregon's high grade marijuana is being smuggled farther east.

But, The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board said the marijuana seized by ISP being grown legally in Washington is not being diverted to the black market. WSLCB Spokesperson Mikhail Carpenter said they track marijuana from seed to sale.

“We have not cited anyone for diversion, our licensees have invested a lot of money into their businesses and face pretty severe consequences for diverting product,” said Carpenter. “While marijuana is legal in Washington the black market still exists and could also be accounting for seizures along the border."

Whoever is growing it, Capitan Kempf said more and more high-grade marijuana from Washington and Oregon is being smuggled through Idaho.

"But it has become a burden for Idaho because these are not, typically they're not Idaho criminals. We wind up importing them here, they get caught here, we prosecute them here," said Kempf.

While marijuana is legal in at least some capacity in 25 states and Washington DC, it remains illegal in Idaho and at the federal level. As long as that is the case, Kempf said troopers will continue to seize large amount pot that pour through the state.

"I'm a big believer in democracy and it is something that Washington and Oregon and Colorado and other states have felt that they needed in their states and Idaho does not feel that way, and until they do we're going to keep enforcing the laws that we have," said Kempf.

This is an issue states that boarder Colorado are dealing with as well. The Attorney's General for Nebraska and Oklahoma both sued Colorado saying their jails are overflowing with smugglers getting caught with Colorado pot. The U.S. Supreme court ultimately declined to hear the lawsuit. Legalization advocates argue that smuggling would stop if other states changed their laws to reflect the reality that marijuana is a widely used drug.


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