Marijuana: Some Oklahoma Conservatives Decry Federal Pot Lawsuit Against Colorado

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Yesterday, we told you about a Texas law professor who says Nebraska and Oklahoma conservatives who preach state rights are hypocrites for attacking Colorado's state marijuana laws. He's not alone.

Several Oklahoma lawmakers are questioning why adamant states'-rights leaders there are calling for the feds to crack down on Colorado pot. Representative Mike Ritze, a Republican from Owasso, thinks the Oklahoma attorney general should think twice about suing Colorado in federal court to halt recreational marijuana laws in this state. It's the "wrong way to deal with the issue," Ritze wrote in a letter to AG Scott Pruitt, also a Republican, last week. The letter was co-signed by six other Republican lawmakers.

See also: "Health Department's Education Campaign Mainly About the Law"

The U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit against Colorado, which was filed last month by the AGs of both Nebraska and Oklahoma, argues that Colorado pot laws created a "dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress. Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States' own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

The suit asks for the feds to step in and put a halt to the sale of pot in Colorado -- sales that the Oklahoma and Nebraska AGs insist are flooding their own states with cannabis.

But that argument doesn't sit well with Ritze and his colleagues who signed the letter. It's not that they want or even favor legalized cannabis; their main point concerns the preservation of states' rights, which is a core Republican value. "If the federal government can force Colorado to criminalize marijuana, using the exact same arguments, it could also force Oklahoma to criminalize a wide range of goods and activities that would be anathema to the citizens of Oklahoma that we are sworn to serve," Ritze wrote.

Instead, Ritze said, Pruitt should drop the lawsuit and and defend Colorado's "right to set its own policies as we would hope other states would defend our right to govern ourselves."

"Our Founding Fathers intended the states to be laboratories of self-government, free to tinker and experiment with different ideas," Ritze said in a release about his letter to the AG. "The founders, from Jefferson to Madison, were also strong proponents of states nullifying unconstitutional federal actions. If the people of Colorado want to end prohibition of marijuana, while I may personally disagree with the decision, constitutionally speaking, they are entitled to do so."

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has said the Oklahoma/Nebraska lawsuit is "without merit" and wrongly targets Colorado for not enforcing federal law when the state is not compelled to do so. "It appears the plaintiffs' primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado," Suthers explained in a statement last month.

That Oklahoma would take issue with Colorado's law is no surprise, though. The state is one of the toughest in the country on pot users, and getting busted with just stems and seeds can get you a year in jail on a first offense. Second offenses will net anywhere from two to ten years in jail. And those caught with enough to be considered selling or distributing could face life behind bars.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.