State counters federal stance on marijuana

Action seeks rejection of two court cases

— A state official is calling on the courts to uphold legalized marijuana.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit to reject two cases challenging Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws.

A lower federal court rejected both cases, and Ferguson argues in an amicus — or “friend of the court” — brief filed yesterday that the appeals court should affirm those decisions and dismiss the challenges to state law.

The two lawsuits — Safe Streets Alliance v. Hickenlooper and Smith et al. v. Hickenlooper — argue the federal Controlled Substances Act preempts Colorado state law, which provides for a regulated and licensed market in marijuana.

Initiative 502 created similar recreational marijuana laws in Washington.

“Cases like this threaten the core of I-502,” Ferguson said. “The people of Colorado and Washington have voted to allow recreational marijuana, and my job is to make sure the will of the people is upheld.”

In his brief, which the state of Oregon also joined, Ferguson argues the Controlled Substances Act “expressly preserves state legislative authority regarding controlled substances,” allowing states to be the “primary enforcers of drug laws.”

More than 20 states have approved medical marijuana laws, and more than a dozen states do not require jail time for the possession of marijuana intended for personal use.

Further, Ferguson maintains the federal Department of Justice’s own guidance — issued in 2013 — sets up a framework for state recreational marijuana laws.

In its guidance, the Justice Department stated it would not intervene in or challenge voter initiatives in states that legalized recreational marijuana, as long as those states maintained a “strict system of regulation” that followed several federal enforcement guidelines.

Those guidelines include keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors, impaired driving prevention programs and preventing revenues from the sale of marijuana from benefiting criminal enterprises, among others.

Ferguson argued that Colorado’s and Washington’s regulatory structures for recreational marijuana meet and exceed the federal guidelines.

Ferguson’s brief further argues that the plaintiffs in both cases lack legal standing to call for the federal government’s intervention, as the power to enforce the Controlled Substances Act rests solely with the Attorney General of the United States.


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