Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith joined forces with other sheriffs and filed a lawsuit to resolve the dispute over legal marijuana in Colorado. The case was filed in federal district court in Denver March 5.
Smith claims that the legalization of marijuana has created a constitution conflict for sheriffs. In the Colorado constitution, there is a section that lays out the guidelines of being a sheriff.
“In that law, it says that a sheriff that violates a federal law can no longer hold office, whether it’s under U.S. law or state law,” Smith said. “What 64 requires in one part of the constitution actually are acts that make us ineligible to be a sheriff.”
On the grounds that Amendment 64 violates the Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law trumps state law, Smith hopes to resolve the conflict of the two statutes in court.
Smith is not the first to file a suit against Colorado for violating federal law. Nebraska and Oklahoma also filed a case in the Supreme Court.
“We came together in this because we have a common concern,” Smith said. “Those sheriffs are making the claim that the Colorado sourced marijuana crimes have increased since legalization.”
The two neighboring states argue that this is an issue of interstate commerce and that marijuana has been illegally crossing borders. The Commerce Clause, drafted for the constitution, gives congress the power to regulate trade with foreign nations and within the states.
Alex Myslajek, a senior at CSU studying mechanical engineering, believes Smith is out of his jurisdiction
“I really don’t think that it’s up to him,” Myslajek said. “If it’s pure democracy and if that’s how the public is going to vote on the issue, then that’s how things should be reasoned out.”
In 2012, Colorado voted on Amendment 64. In Larimer County, 55 percent were in favor and 45 percent opposed, according to the county-specific results.
Smith said that the issue of legalization goes beyond exercising the right to personal use of marijuana.
“When Amendment 64 was created it didn’t simply decriminalize marijuana, it mandated its state and its counties to acknowledge that as a right,” Smith said. “We turn that onto an individual who has the right to possess and sell marijuana and they get burglarized and get robbed five pounds. We have to investigate that crime, and if it’s resolved we have to return that paraphernalia. In order to uphold that right I’m violating felony criminal laws.”
Some community members argue that the benefits of Amendment 64 outweigh the problems.
“It’s brought in so much money and a lot of it’s going to schools. I don’t know what he thinks is so troublesome about it,” said Steve Bashaquis, a CSU freshman studying sociology.
This article was published in The Collegian March 12, 2015.