Littwin: The Great Pot Shot
December 22, 2014
Now we know what they do on a slow day (in other words, every day but Husker game day) in Nebraska. They take their neighbors to court.
And so, we now have the Great Pot Shot, in which Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado for not just legalizing weed, but for — yes — dealing it. Unless you buy the slow-day angle, you're probably as confused as I am. In this world, pot's the gateway drug and Colorado has become the Gateway State.
According to the suit filed with the Supreme Court — yes, that Supreme Court, the one where people rarely file nuisance lawsuits unless they involve Obamacare — it's a border issue, although not the kind we're used to. In this case, it's Nebraskans and Oklahomans apparently crossing the border into Colorado to buy weed and then bring it back to, say, Nebraska or Oklahoma. To sell it. Or smoke it. Or eat it. As if they didn't already have weed to buy in, say, Nebraska or Oklahoma. This is just a wild guess, but I'd say that the pot needs in those states were being met long before anyone thought of legalization in Colorado.
And yet, if you read the suit, you'll find that this nasty bit of smuggling is costing smallish border towns big bucks in jail time and for overtime when the local constabulary is stopping cars on the way back from Colorado on account of, I don't know, maybe violating Nebraska's MWD — Munching While Driving — laws. And someone has to pay.
As The Dude would say, this aggression will not stand, man.
Still, there are a few things I'm confused about. One, it's already illegal to take pot out of the state. And two, in any case, an out-of-state resident can legally buy only one-quarter ounce of pot at a time. Even if you hit a few shops per visit, that's going to mean a lot of trips and a lot of overhead — even with lower gas prices — for the Nebraska cartels.
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But let's suppose this actually does represent a problem for close-to-Colorado stops like Deuel County, Nebraska (pop. 1941). But how big a problem, really? Deuel County Sheriff Adam Hayward told USA Today that his officers are tied up for hours dealing with traffic stops that turn into pot busts. And, gosh, it's worse than that.
Hayward said that it's not just pot, but that he has also seen a significant increase in meth and heroin, which, last I checked, have never been legal in Colorado. If this is starting to sound like either an article from The Onion or a sequel to "Reefer Madness," read on: Hayward also said that legal Colorado pot dealers are "selling marijuana out the front door, legal marijuana, and illegal drugs out the back door."
Was the whole Amendment 64 thing just an excuse to smuggle drugs into surrounding states? If so, and if you voted for legalizing pot, aren't you expecting a taste?
Some things the suit doesn't say: How much pot is being brought into Nebraska/Oklahoma, other than a "significant influx," why other border states haven't joined in, how much money it has actually cost Nebraska/Oklahoma. What it does say is that Colorado's pot law has placed "unnecessary burdens" on them. So now they seek to place unnecessary burdens on us.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt told the Wall Street Journal it was legal for Colorado to pass its pot laws, but that the problem is found in the regulations, which set up the process by which pot can come from Colorado, where it's now legal, to Oklahoma, where it's not. "One state," Pruitt told the Journal, "can't adopt a law or to do something that conflicts with the law of and polices of another state."
Not everyone agrees. In fact, a lot of people don't agree. Writing in the Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform blog, Vanderbilt law professor Robert Mikos says the suit "lacks merit." He adds, "As I've explained before, Congress can't force states to criminalize marijuana. It follows that Congress also can't stop states from legalizing marijuana; after all, legalization is just repeal of criminalization."
And, of course, the Justice Department has said that it will allow states to enforce their pot laws — leaving Colorado and Washington to do their own enforcement. And then there's Colorado Attorney General John Suthers — who vigorously opposed Amendment 64 — who now says he will vigorously defend Colorado's pot laws. Maybe he meant it when he said his views didn't matter back when he was going to the mat opposing same-sex marriage.
And then there are the voters. The Colorado experience led to votes last month to legalize pot in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. Starting with Colorado and the state of Washington, this is now more than a trend — it's closer to a movement. You can expect more states, if not Nebraska or Oklahoma, to follow suit.
In fact, it's nearly a year now, and unless some attention-seeking attorney general files a lawsuit or Maureen Dowd writes a column about seeing bats, it's hardly even an issue here. As I was saying the other day, Denver defied all predictions that it would somehow turn into the next Amsterdam. And, since it has come up, I'd say it's even a better bet that Denver is not going to turn into Lincoln, Nebraska.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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