Judge dismisses federal marijuana suit against Pueblo County and Colorado officials


Yesterday, Judge Robert E. Blackburn dismissed charges against Pueblo County, as well as other government agencies and officials, in a lawsuit that challenges the legality of recreational marijuana.

Filed in February 2015, the suit asked the U.S. District Court of Colorado to find Amendment 64 illegal due to conflict with the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. The suit also asked the Court to find Pueblo County guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

Judge Blackburn dismissed these claims, concluding, in short, that private parties aren't allowed to seek recourse for violations of the Supremacy Clause. He also concluded that it's up to the U.S. Attorney General and the Department of Justice to enforce — or not enforce — the Controlled Substances Act, under which marijuana is still federally illegal. Government entities can't be prosecuted under RICO, he said, as "[they] cannot form specific criminal intent."

Last February, the Washington, D.C.-based anti-marijuana group Safe Streets Alliance filed the suit — along with Pueblo County landowners Hope and Michael Reilly — against Rocky Mountain Organics, which was constructing a recreational grow facility near their property in Rye. The plaintiffs also held officially responsible Governor John Hickenlooper; Barbara J. Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue; W. Lewis Koski, director of the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division; the Pueblo County Board of County Commissioners; and the Pueblo County Liquor & Marijuana Licensing Board.

Only the public-sector defendants, however, are off the hook. Rocky Mountain Organics owners Joseph and Jason Licata, as well as the landowner, the leaser, an insurance company, and a developer are among the private-sector defendants named in the suit. All may still be looking at a RICO suit.

Safe Streets Alliance filed two RICO suits last February. The second was against Summit Marijuana and its banking, bonding and accounting companies. Said financial companies either disavowed any association with Summit Marijuana or settled, and the suit was dropped.

Though drug-law expert Sam Kamin told The Cannabist Safe Streets' case would have lost at trial, he added that suits like this "are going to be incredibly problematic for the industry going forward. The folks who helped to bring this suit and sought out plaintiffs for this suit are looking for more and other lawsuits.”

All told, this is good news for Amendment 64 supporters. Between this and U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. advising the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss Nebraska and Oklahoma's lawsuit against Colorado, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that legalization will be struck down by a Supreme Court decision.

Read the full text of the decision here:

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