Pubdate: Fri, 19 Dec 2014
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2014 The New York Times Company
Author: Jack Healy


DENVER - Two heartland states filed the first major court challenge 
to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado's growing 
array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping 
marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down.

The lawsuit was brought by attorneys general in Nebraska and 
Oklahoma, and asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key 
parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in 
Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and 
regulations surrounding retail marijuana.

While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, officials have 
largely allowed Colorado and other states to move ahead with 
state-run programs allowing medical and recreational marijuana. But 
the lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma, where marijuana is still 
outlawed, argues that Colorado has "created a dangerous gap" in the 
federal drug-control system.

"Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states," the suit 
says, undermining their marijuana bans, "draining their treasuries, 
and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

For months, some sheriffs and police officers in rural counties 
bordering Colorado have complained that they have seen more marijuana 
entering their towns and being transported down their highways since 
recreational sales began in January. Oklahoma and Nebraska said the 
influx had led to more arrests, more impounded vehicles and higher 
jail and court costs. They say it has also forced law-enforcement 
agencies to spend more time and dedicate more resources to handling 
marijuana-related arrests.

"We're seeing a lot of marijuana coming over from Colorado," said 
Sheriff Adam Hayward of Deuel County, Neb., who said that he was 
gratified that the two states were challenging Colorado's marijuana 
laws. He has complained that marijuana arrests have strained his jail 
budget. "For the longest time we were saying, this is becoming a 
problem for us."

Colorado's attorney general, John Suthers, a Republican, said in a 
statement that the challenge from Nebraska and Oklahoma was "without 
merit." Like many elected officials in Colorado, Mr. Suthers had 
opposed Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana. But on Thursday, he 
said "we will vigorously defend" against the lawsuit attempting to undo it.

Nebraska and Oklahoma's challenge is aimed more at the commercial 
side of marijuana legalization, which created new systems of 
regulations and taxes as well as recreational stores, dispensaries 
and production facilities that are monitored and licensed by state 
officials. The suit does not specifically seek to overturn the 
portion of Amendment 64 that made marijuana legal for personal use 
and possession, meaning that portions of legalization could survive 
even if Nebraska and Oklahoma prevail.

But marijuana advocates said that the challenge - if it succeeds at 
shutting down marijuana retailers - could boost the black market.

"If Nebraska and Oklahoma succeed, they will put the violent criminal 
organizations back in charge," Michael Elliott, the executive 
director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a Colorado-based trade 
group, said in a statement.

The lawsuit, which was brought by Nebraska's attorney general, Jon 
Bruning, and Oklahoma's attorney general, Scott Pruitt, accused 
Colorado officials of participating in a "scheme" that cultivates, 
packages and distributes marijuana in direct violation of 
controlled-substances laws while "ignoring every objective embodied 
in the federal drug control regulation." It was filed directly with 
the Supreme Court because it involves a dispute among states.

"The Constitution and the federal antidrug laws do not permit the 
development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and 
licensed distribution schemes throughout the country," the lawsuit says.

Nebraska and Oklahoma accused Colorado of leaving huge holes in 
marijuana rules that allowed the plant to flow out of state.

While it is against the law to take legally purchased marijuana 
across state lines, Nebraska and Oklahoma said that Colorado does not 
require consumers to smoke or eat their marijuana where they buy it, 
and said that despite purchasing and possession limits, anyone can 
easily visit several dispensaries and stock up. Some sheriffs in 
bordering states say they have pulled over drivers and found edibles 
and marijuana from multiple Colorado retail outlets.

They also criticized Colorado for not tracking marijuana once it is 
sold, and for not requiring marijuana buyers to undergo criminal 
background checks (under Colorado law, anyone 21 or older can legally 
purchase recreational marijuana). Colorado's rules have no way to 
prevent "criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels from acquiring 
marijuana inventory directly from retail marijuana stores," the lawsuit says.

Nebraska and Oklahoma complained about a "significant influx of 
Colorado-sourced marijuana," but the suit did not mention specific 
statistics about Colorado-related marijuana arrests or drug seizures. 
In earlier interviews, some local law-enforcement officers along 
Colorado's borders said that they had not seen an increase in 
marijuana coming from Colorado.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom