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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, February 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Plains States Attack CO Pot Law in Federal Court

DENVER (CN) - A group of 11 sheriffs and county attorneys from Colorado and neighboring Plains states filed a federal complaint against Colorado's Gov. John Hickenlooper to stop the sale of recreational marijuana in that state.

The complaint challenges Colorado's Amendment 64 under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the federal Controlled Substances Act, saying it places an unfair burden on the law-enforcement offices to corral the overflow of recreational drugs now spilling into areas where possession remains illegal.

"The nation's anti-drug laws reflect a well-established balance of national law enforcement, foreign relations, and societal priorities," the complaint states. "If allowed to continue in effect, Amendment 64's legalization and commercialization scheme will conflict with and undermine the federal government's careful balance of anti-drug enforcement priorities and objectives."

Led by Larimer County, Colo., Sheriff Justin Smith, the plaintiffs say the proliferation of marijuana-cultivation facilities has spawned an outgrowth of illegal activity that is overwhelming county law-enforcement agencies in Colorado and neighboring states.

"Each of the neighboring-state sheriffs encounters marijuana on a regular basis as part of his day-to-day duties and will continue to do so," the 44-page lawsuit alleges.

Even within Colorado, legalized pot has placed law enforcement in a bind, as officers are caught between oaths to uphold both the U.S. and state constitutions, according to the complaint.

"Since the enactment of Amendment 64, these oaths contradict each other," the officers claim. "Each Colorado plaintiff-sheriff routinely is required to violate one of these oaths in performing his duties relating to conflicting federal and Colorado marijuana laws."

Amendment 64 was passed as a ballot initiative during the 2012 election. Gross sales of marijuana have totaled $520 million for the 2014-15 fiscal year, a majority of which is being sold to out-of-state buyers, according to the complaint.

In reaction to the lawsuit, Neill Franklin of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of criminal-justice professionals opposed to the drug war, insists that legalizing marijuana has freed police to focus on what he calls "real crimes."

"Of course some law enforcement officers are going to be upset about [legalization]," Franklin said in a statement. "But I would ask those officers to think about why they joined the force in the first place, why they risk their lives every day just to do their jobs. I doubt many would say it's to go after low-level drug offenders."

Both Gov. Hickenlooper and the state's Republican attorney general, John Suthers, have repeatedly vowed to defend the amendment.

This past December, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit with the Supreme Court, citing a similar argument that Colorado's legal weed undermines federal law and places an unfair burden on the law enforcement agencies of neighboring states.

The plaintiff law-enforcement officers in this latest action seek preliminary and permanent injunctions against Gov. Hickenlooper that would block implementation of Amendment 64 and immediately halt the legal sale of marijuana for personal use in Colorado.

Five Colorado sheriffs, three Nebraska sheriffs and one Kansas sheriff join Larimer's Smith as plaintiffs, along with one county attorney from both Nebraska and Kansas.

Hickenlooper, Colorado's Democratic Governor, is named as the sole defendant.

Paul Kelly and John Commisso of the Boston office of Jackson Lewis PC filed the complaint, along with Peter Munger and Ashley Paige Fetyko of the Denver office of Jackson Lewis.

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