The number of drug related cases in Pratt County is increasing and the percentage of young people involved in those cases also continues to rise.
Pratt County Attorney Ken Van Blaricum is concerned about the increase and the apparent lack of understanding in the drug community that drug activity has very serious consequences.
The number of both misdemeanor and felony drug cases is increasing. So far, the number of felony drug cases on Van Blaricum's desk this year has reached 60 with four more months to go.
About a handful of these cases are repeat offenders. Of those 60 cases, 34 are felony possession and 26 are felony possession with intent to sell and that qualifies them as drug dealers.
The overall number of cases is higher than is has been in previous years, Van Blaricum said.
"I think this is disproportionately high for a city the size of Pratt," Van Blaricum said.
Another disturbing element is that many of the intent to distribute cases involve young people.
Also disturbing is at least five of these intent to distribute cases allegedly occur within 1,000 feet of a school and involve manufacturing with intent to distribute. That is a level 1 drug felony, the highest level.
Of those five cases, three people are involved in one event and two involved in another event.
While most of these cases involve local people, at least one case involves two women from Nevada who were stopped in Pratt County in a rented car and consented to a search of their vehicle. The Kansas Highway Patrol officer found 40.5 pounds of high-grade marijuana with a street value of $362,000 in a suitcase in the trunk.
The two were charged with: cultivation, distribution or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance; unlawful manufacture, distribution, cultivation or possession of a controlled substance using a communication device; no drug tax stamp.
Part of the problem is that many people don't seem to care if they get a criminal record. For first and second time offenders for possession of marijuana, (second offense is a felony,) the outcome is usually probation and many don't even blink at probation, Van Blaricum said.
What many suspects don't understand is that possession with intent to distribute is a much more serious crime than just having the product for personal use.
If someone is caught with pounds of marijuana and a grinder and scale, that can qualify a person as a dealer and that can mean prison time.
With methamphetamine it is much more serious. Any size meth, scales, messages on a cell phone can classify a person as a dealer.
"That is a serious felony. It is a very important distinction," Van Blaricum said.
Sentencing in Kansas is done on a grid system that rates crimes on severity and their criminal background.
On the grid, if a person is caught in possession with marijuana, they could get just probation but if that person offers to share that joint, that is considered distribution.
It shifts from a level IV to a level III and that could result in a minimum of 46 months in jail.
Sentencing in several of these cases is coming in September. While it won't stop drug use and distribution, Van Blaricum hopes that sentencing will help other drug uses to understand that is not OK to own, sell or share illegal substances. The consequences can be disastrous and the person can go to prison.
Although recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, it is not legal in Kansas so someone can't go there and get marijuana and bring it to Kansas.
Sentencing will get some of these people off the street and send them to prison. Hopefully, it will let other people know that using drugs will lead to bad consequences.
Hopefully, sentencing will discourage doing drugs and not to sell or share drugs.