Pubdate: Tue, 10 Feb 2015
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2015 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Kurtis Lee, Tribune Newspapers


Nebraska, Oklahoma Are Suing Colorado

PUEBLO WEST, Colo. - On the front door of the 20,000-square-foot 
marijuana dispensary here is a laminated sign warning every customer: 
"It is illegal to sell or transport marijuana to another state."

"We make it very, very clear that this is the law here," said Rick 
Hooper, general manager of The Spot 420 in this barren part of 
southern Colorado.

Whether people obey is a different question, and some neighboring 
states don't think a warning sign is enough.

A border war has broken out between Colorado, where recreational pot 
is legal, and its neighbors, Nebraska and Oklahoma, where it is not.

In December, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a 
lawsuit to stop what they say is a steady flow of marijuana across 
the Colorado state line. Kansas is considering joining.

The suit, filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, seeks to strike down 
Colorado's law legalizing recreational marijuana. It argues that 
Colorado's statute conflicts with federal drug laws, which consider 
marijuana illegal, even in small amounts.

"Left unchallenged, I am confident Colorado's law will cause 
long-term harm to Nebraska families," the state's new attorney 
general, Republican Doug Peterson, wrote in an open letter last 
month. "It is incumbent on Nebraska to take action."

Coloradans, however, are bristling that its conservative neighbors 
are trying to impose their will on the voters of this centrist state.

"They can't force their convictions onto Coloradans," said Hooper, 
amid piles of oddly contorted bongs and shelves full of glass jars 
packed with cannabis.

Colorado's marijuana law was approved by voters in 2012. It allows 
the sale and possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for 
recreational use for anyone 21 and over with a valid driver's license.

Shortly after the new law took effect, the U.S. Justice Department 
outlined its enforcement priorities, saying it would not interfere 
with Colorado's legal pot operations but would instead focus on, 
among other things, preventing marijuana from crossing state lines.

Oklahoma's Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs said it had seen 
more "high-potency" marijuana arriving from its neighbor. Mark 
Woodward, an agency spokesman, said there had been about a dozen 
cases in the last year.

"Whether it's people driving to Colorado and bringing it back, or 
mailing it through the Postal Service, it's getting here," he said. 
"This is marijuana with very high concentrations of THC, very strong 
stuff." THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient 
in cannabis.

Some police in Colorado agree it's not difficult to get marijuana 
across state lines. "People can buy legal marijuana, take it out of 
its packaging, put it in a plastic bag, and there's no telling if 
it's legal or where it came from," said Marc Vasquez, the Erie, 
Colo., police chief.

Colorado recently launched a $5.7 million ad campaign to make it 
clear to everyone - especially outof-state visitors - what the rules 
are. Taking pot out of the state is a felony and a federal violation.

But the success of the campaign is debatable, given the ease of 
driving across state lines.

"It would be naive not to think some people are not looking to take 
it back home with them," said Katy Atkinson, a Denver-based political 

In Denver last fall, the police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration raided several growing facilities that officials said 
were producing marijuana for out-of-state sellers.

But the majority of dispensaries are not partaking in illegal 
activity, said Hooper, a baby boomer pot enthusiast, while sitting at 
a desk cluttered with papers and cannabis literature one recent afternoon.

"We follow the rules, very strictly," he said of his dispensary. "Why 
jeopardize this movement?"

Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit argues that Colorado cannot pass 
statutes that conflict with federal drug laws. It is a violation of 
the U.S. Constitution, which maintains that federal law is the 
"supreme law of the land," according to the suit.

In addition, the suit argues that Oklahoma and Nebraska will suffer 
in the long term because of increased costs from arrests, the seizure 
of contraband, the transfer of prisoners and other problems 
associated with marijuana crossing state lines.

Legal experts have mostly scoffed at the suit.

"This is a very weak claim. Their real beef is with the federal 
government for not enforcing the federal drug laws," said Georgetown 
law professor Randy Barnett, who has argued a marijuana case before 
the U.S. Supreme Court. "It is not up to the states to sue each other 
when the federal government is not enforcing the law."

The Supreme Court already has found that states have no duty to 
enforce federal law.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a Republican, and Nebraska's 
Peterson declined to comment.

Critics of the lawsuit largely see it as political grandstanding by 
the attorneys general to their conservative constituencies.

But even among conservatives, there are complaints.

Last month, a number of GOP legislators, led by Oklahoma state Rep. 
Mike Ritzpe, sent a three-page letter to Pruitt asking him to drop 
the suit because of its assault on the right of a state to pass its 
own laws. We "do not feel that attempting to undermine the 
sovereignty of a neighboring state using the federal courts, even if 
inadvertently, is a wise use of Oklahoma's limited state resources," 
the letter said.

Peterson, in his open letter, stressed that he had no intention of 
giving up the suit. "Nebraska has only one real choice, to uphold the 
law that exists for the protection of the public and wellbeing of 
Nebraska's families," he wrote. "We must not subject our youth to 
such a costly social experiment."

Tribune Washington Bureau's David G. Savage contributed.
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