In December, the states of Oklahoma and Nebraska filed suit against Colorado over its marijuana laws.
Today, a second federal lawsuit against Colorado is scheduled to be unveiled. But this time, the plaintiff isn't another state, but an anti-drug group, Washington D.C.-based Safe Streets Alliance.
At this writing, the suit itself has not yet been made public — and the news release announcing the complaint actually spells the word "marijuana" as "marajuana" in its headline. But pro-cannabis forces are taking the challenge seriously, scheduling a press conference to denounce the effort an hour before the one at which it's being formally touted.
The "About" page on the Safe Streets Alliance website notes that the organization grew out of the effort to launch the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children during the early 1990s. But the alliance has a specific anti-drug slant.
Of late, the group has put a great deal of its focus on Colorado's marijuana laws. In January, SSA endorsed the Oklahoma-Nebraska lawsuit, and an online petition encouraging President Barack Obama to endorse federal drug laws specifically mentions Colorado. It reads:
Marijuana Deals Near You
Whereas, the laws of the United States prohibit the production, sale, and possession of marijuana and other illegal drugs because of concern for the health and welfare of all Americans;
Whereas, the United States is a party to treaties which require signing countries to prohibit the production, sale, and possession of marijuana and other illegal drugs;
Whereas, the United States expends enormous resources and law enforcement personnel risk their lives daily preventing the smuggling of marijuana and other illegal drugs into the United States;
Whereas, the overwhelming majority of states prohibit the sale and distribution of marijuana because of their concern for the health and well-being of their youngest and most vulnerable citizens;
Whereas, the attempted legalization of marijuana by Colorado and other states in flagrant violation of federal law does irreparable harm to the goals of these long-standing laws and policies and to respect for the rule of law; and
Whereas, the President of the United States and the Attorney General of the United States have sworn to uphold the United States Constitution and to faithfully execute federal laws which have been passed by Congress.
Therefore, we the undersigned urge President Obama and Attorney General Holder to enforce federal laws which prohibit the production, sale, and possession of marijuana and other illegal drugs and for Congress and the Courts to hold them accountable if they do not.
The alliance's filing of its own lawsuit is an escalation of its campaign against liberalized marijuana laws — and a press conference spotlighting the complaint is set to get underway at 10 a.m. today on the east steps of the State Capitol. But its release about the event, and the suit, managed to misspell marijuana in its headline, as can be seen in the following screen capture.
The spelling gets better below. The release says the lawsuit asks the court to "vindicate federal marijuana laws" and alleges that "state and local officials in Colorado are violating federal law by promoting the commercialization of marijuana."
Safe Streets also plans to directly sue "several prominent participants in the industry itself," noting, "Federal racketeering laws give private plaintiffs injured by the operations of a commercial drug conspiracy the right to an injunction, treble damages and attorney's fees.
"In addition to shutting down the operations targeted in its suit," the release goes on, "Safe Streets hopes that its use of the federal racketeering laws will serve as a model for other business and property owners who have been injured by the rise of the commercial marijuana industry."
For such suits to be successful, Safe Streets will have to prove its standing as an injured party — something that may be extremely difficult for an agenda-driven group half a continent away from Colorado. Given that, the complaints could be little more than an elaborate ploy to generate publicity for the anti-marijuana cause in an effort to dissuade other states from following Colorado's lead.
Whatever the case, cannabis activists aren't laughing off the federal suit. At 9 a.m. today, an hour before the Safe Streets Alliance takes center stage, representatives of the Marijuana Policy Project and the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation, along with Colorado Representative Jonathan Singer, will hold a news conference of their own at 1244 Grant Street, and two participants have already released statements denouncing the lawsuit.
Here's a comment from Mason Tvert, communication director for the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the principal advocates for Amendment 64, the 2012 measure that legalized limited recreational cannabis sales in Colorado:
“This lawsuit is misguided, and we’re doubtful it will succeed. Colorado has no obligation to punish adults for using marijuana and every right to take steps to control it.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales that were previously taking place in a dangerous underground market are now being conducted safely in licensed stores. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would prefer marijuana be controlled by criminals instead of by tightly regulated businesses. If drug cartels relied on litigation instead of violence, this is the lawsuit they would file.
“We fail to see how our streets will be safer if we go back to having unregulated marijuana sold in homes and back alleys. Ironically, Colorado’s streets will be less safe if the Safe Streets Alliance gets its way.”
And here's the take of Christian Sederberg, a former member of the A64 task force appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper and current chair of the Council on Responsible Cannabis Regulation:
“Colorado has demonstrated that regulating marijuana works. Our state has enacted sensible and strict regulations, developed through an inclusive stakeholder process, to ensure quality-controlled marijuana is available through safe and secure businesses. These businesses are run by individuals who are active, contributing, and taxpaying members of the community.
“This lawsuit is intended to undermine a set of laws and regulations specifically designed to make our communities safer. We are in the process of eliminating the underground marijuana market in this state. It’s disappointing to see outsiders coming into Colorado with the goal of reversing our progress.”
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In the meantime, marijuana legalization appears to be gaining ground in New Mexico and Vermont, among other states. Colorado may be ground zero for the latest fight, but the battleground is getting bigger every day.