Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado Lock and Load for the Great Pot War
The attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska have filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to shut down the billion-dollar legal marijuana industry in Colorado.
Jon Caldara, the president of “free-thought” think tank the Independence Institute in Denver, told PJM it’s a “silly lawsuit.”
However, if the Supreme Court justices don’t see it his way, Caldara said Colorado could countersue Oklahoma and Nebraska for selling gun magazines that carry more than 15 rounds of ammo.
Colorado’s attorney general, John Suthers, has promised to mount a vigorous defense of his state’s pot business and the rules and regulations that were created following voter approval of the use of marijuana, just for the buzz of it, in the November 2012 election.
The state’s first marijuana stores opened Jan. 1, 2014.
Colorado’s entrepreneurs of weed argue their case isn’t just about the capitalistic notion that a billion-dollar industry is worth saving, or even the $30.5 million in tax revenue the industry is expected to send to Denver in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Michael Elliott works as the executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group in Colorado — the business is so legit it now has its own lobbyists in Denver — and said a victory by Nebraska and Oklahoma would “put the violent criminal organizations back in charge” of the pot business.
But attorneys general in Oklahoma and Nebraska argue their states are paying the price for Colorado’s new legal weed culture.
Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, joined Jon Bruning, his counterpart in Nebraska, in filing suit in the U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 18 against Colorado’s commercialized marijuana system.
Pruitt and Bruning argue the way Colorado is selling pot violates the U.S. Constitution and inundates their states with marijuana and the stoned-out, red-eyed potheads who smoke it, eat it, and drink it — marijuana is available in liquid form, mints and truffles, along with weed to roll and smoke.
“The illegal products being distributed in Colorado are being trafficked across state lines thereby injuring neighboring states like Oklahoma and Nebraska,” Pruitt said.
“As the state’s chief legal officer, the attorney general’s office is taking this step to protect the health and safety of Oklahomans.”
Maybe so, but the recreational use of marijuana has made the growing, packaging and selling of pot a business that makes the eyes of a Cheech & Chong fan from the 1970s turn green with envy.
Brooke Gehring is one of Colorado’s new pot entrepreneurs. She’s growing her marijuana inside what was an abandoned warehouse in Denver, investing $3 million in the facility to turn it into a lean, green, growing machine.
Gehring told NPR that she and others who are making the Rocky Mountain State high want to change the stoner culture stereotype and show there “are true business people that are operating these companies.”
Elliott said the Nebraska and Oklahoma lawsuit, if successful, would have the disastrous side effect of returning Colorado to the bad old days when criminals sold pot.
“Despite 45 years of the federal war on marijuana, marijuana remains universally available, including in Nebraska and Oklahoma,” said Elliott.
“We’ve chosen the licensed and regulated marijuana businesses over violent criminal organizations. Colorado has created a comprehensive and robust regulatory program for the sale of marijuana in Colorado. And the data is overwhelmingly showing that Colorado has enhanced public safety, the economy, and the freedom of its citizens,” he added.
It is not hard to see why Colorado officials want to hang on to what has become a growing industry.
Coincidentally or not, the legalization of marijuana has coincided with the rebirth of Colorado’s economy.
“Colorado’s economic activity continues to outperform the national expansion,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said.
“Total employment and personal income have steadily increased for several years running. The state’s unemployment rate stands at 4.7 percent, the lowest since 2008. Looking ahead, the most likely scenario is for the momentum to continue at a steady pace.”
But Colorado’s good times aside, Bruning said Nebraska has been hurt by its neighbor’s legalization of marijuana.
"This contraband has been heavily trafficked into our state," Bruning told the Associated Press. ”While Colorado reaps millions from the sale of pot, Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost.”
A USA Today report in June 2014 showed the number of people who have been busted on felony drug charges in Nebraska has increased dramatically since Colorado legalized pot.
Drug arrests in one small town, Chappel, Neb. — about seven miles north of the Colorado border — jumped 400 percent in three years.
Suthers will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court that the problem the plaintiffs are experiencing with law enforcement is not state, but federal.
“Because neighboring states have expressed concern about Colorado-grown marijuana coming into their states, we are not entirely surprised by this action,” Suthers said in a statement released by his office.
“However, 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. We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he added.
Suthers’ colleagues inside the Colorado State Capitol building in Denver don’t want to merely protect the marijuana industry; they want to help it grow.
State legislators, with Hickenlooper’s backing, have approved the formation of a credit union especially for the marijuana industry to provide the capital pot entrepreneurs will need to grow their seeds, and businesses, to even higher levels.
It all depends on approval from the National Credit Union Administration, but Colorado officials are hoping the Fourth Corner Credit Union will be open in January 2015.
Finally, another indication that Colorado’s marijuana business could be here to stay, pending a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court: the Denver Post has reported one of the pot entrepreneurs in Colorado has applied for a U.S. patent to protect his medical-grade Otto II strain of marijuana.