After first recreational pot shop opens in Durango, San Juan County law enforcement cast uneasy eye north

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Durango Organics and Wellness Center in Durango recently opened its doors to sell marijuana for recreational use and, according to co-owner Jonny Radding, business has been "wonderful."

"We've had a lot of people from New Mexico, from the Four Corners, obviously," he said. "We are the closest shop to the Four Corners."

Durango Organics, which opened Sept. 26, is the first business in Durango to sell marijuana for recreational use since the passage of Colorado Amendment 64, which allows adults age 21 and older to consume marijuana for recreational purposes.

While the use of pot was legalized in Colorado, it remains outlawed in New Mexico and some local law enforcement officials are concerned that the drug will make its way south to San Juan County.

According to magistrate court records, the number of marijuana-related charges appear to be increasing.

So far in 2014, 166 people have been charged with misdemeanor pot possession in San Juan County, court records state. By comparison, 174 people were charged with the same offenses in 2013, and 179 people were charged in 2012.

First-time offenders caught with less than one ounce of marijuana in New Mexico can be punished by up to $100 in fines and 15 days in jail. A second or subsequent offense carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to one year in jail.

Sgt. Joe Gonzales of the Aztec Police Department said he expects that his department will see an increase in marijuana possession arrests, but said it was too soon to say for sure.

"Are we concerned? Yeah, we've talked about it," he said. "I had heard there was a smoke shop across the border, but whether it will change the community, I don't know."

San Juan County Sheriff's Office Capt. Brice Current said that marijuana has always been a problem in San Juan County.

"We have always had a bunch of it anyway," he said. "We were getting more (marijuana) from Colorado, before it was legalized, than we were getting from Mexico."

He said that even before legalization, law enforcement officials in Colorado were "lax" in enforcing laws related to marijuana use and distribution.

"You had a bunch of grow houses up there that weren't being busted or prosecuted," he said. "We were seeing cases before it was legalized, but I am not sure what impact it will have now."

Phil Goodwin, director of the Region II Narcotics Task Force, said that so far his unit has not seen an increase in marijuana distribution, a felony offense, but he expects that will change.

"I imagine we'll see more problems with it, because of the proximity," he said.

Radding said that his employees try to educate customers about the danger of bringing marijuana back home to less pot-friendly states, but at the end of the day, it's the customer's responsibility.

"We hope that people respect their state law, whatever that might be," he said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.