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Police vehicles sit in the basement garage on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 at the Cheyenne Police Department in downtown Cheyenne. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne Police Department announced Wednesday in a Facebook post that it can’t take any enforcement action relating to the new federal law that raises the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 years old.

That’s because state law enforcement, such as CPD, cannot enforce federal law. CPD can only legally enforce Wyoming state laws and Cheyenne city ordinances, CPD Public Information Officer David Inman said.

Inman said only federal agencies, such as the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, can enforce federal laws in Wyoming. However, Inman did note that just because CPD can’t enforce the new change, people are still breaking federal law if someone under 21 buys tobacco products.

This includes any products with tobacco or nicotine in them, such as flavored e-cigarettes or vapes, cigarettes, cigars and more.

“(It’s the) same concept as you think with Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana statewide. Police can’t do anything federally, you know,” Inman said. “We’re not trying to tell people, ‘Yeah, you know, do what you want,’ because federal law says you can’t. We just can’t enforce it. That’s what makes it different is we can’t take action on it.”

There is currently a proposed bill in the Legislature that would raise the age for someone to buy or possess nicotine products from 18 to 21 in Wyoming. Inman said if this passes, he also anticipates a city ordinance with the same rules would follow, which CPD would then have the power to enforce.

Inman said this enforcement issue also isn’t unique to the tobacco laws. He said this goes for any federal law that isn’t also a state law – the Cheyenne Police Department cannot legally enforce it.

He said CPD decided to do the Facebook post to let the public know how the tobacco law will affect them because they were getting a lot of inquires from people and local businesses.

“We were getting a lot of questions from local businesses worried about ‘Am I going to get in trouble if I sell,’ or ‘This is hurting my sales because federal law says we can’t do this, but there’s no state law saying we can’t, so am I allowed to sell or not,’” Inman said. “So we decided to maybe help out by putting it out on social media to reach more people.”

Even though Inman said CPD isn’t enforcing the federal law change, he said it’s important for businesses to keep in mind that federal agencies can still do undercover buys at stores to see if they’re complying with federal law. If they’re not, they will still have to face the federal ramifications from the law violation.

“I know it gets kind of gray sometimes. It gets confusing when some people think about federal and state law. But we have our own state constitution, state law and those rights and freedoms given to them under state law,” Inman said. “Those are the ones we enforce because we can.”

Isabella Alves is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at ialves@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @IsabellaAlves96.

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