DENVER — Colorado already is being sued by two neighboring states for legalizing marijuana. Now, the state faces groundbreaking lawsuits from its own residents, who are asking a federal judge to order the new recreational industry to close.
The owners of a mountain hotel and a southern Colorado horse farm argue in a pair of lawsuits filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver that the 2012 marijuana-legalization measure has hurt their property and that the marijuana industry is stinky and attracts unsavory visitors.
The lawsuits are the first in any state that has legalized recreational or medical marijuana in which its own residents are appealing to the federal government to block pot laws.
“It is a bedrock principle of the United States Constitution that federal law is the supreme law of the land,” said David Thompson, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. “The people of Colorado are free to advocate for a change (in federal drug law), but they must do so through their elected representatives in Congress.”
The lawsuits are also the first to claim that federal racketeering laws allow them to win damages from pot businesses that flout federal law. The plaintiffs have not specified amounts they would seek.
Lawyers say the racketeering approach is a new one.
“If these lawsuits are successful, it could be devastating for the industry,” said Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who helped craft Colorado’s pot regulations. “But it will be very difficult for the plaintiffs to prove damages directly attributable to the marijuana industry.”
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman released a statement saying she would “defend the state’s marijuana laws and our clients” if the lawsuits go to trial.
Marijuana legalization supporters say that states are free to stop enforcing certain drug laws, as long as they don’t try to overrule the federal Controlled Substances Act.
“Colorado has every right to stop punishing adults for using marijuana,” said Mason Tvert, who ran Colorado’s legalization campaign and joined about a dozen other legalization supporters who marched to the state Capitol on Thursday for the lawsuits’ announcement. They carried signs saying, “Regulation Works!”
One legalization backer, Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Singer, said the pot industry has boosted tax coffers and hurt the black market.
“The sky hasn’t fallen. We’re doing the right thing,” Singer said.
Technically, federal law making pot illegal for any purpose remains in effect in the 23 states that have authorized its use for people with certain medical conditions. However, it’s not clear how far the federal government can go to compel states to enforce drug laws.
For nearly 20 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly said that marijuana remains illegal and that the federal government can enforce even small-possession crimes. However, U.S. authorities have left most enforcement to the states, saying they focus on larger drug crimes.
One of the lawsuits came from the owner of a Pueblo County horse farm, Hope Reilly, who said Thursday that she’s “been horrified” to see a marijuana cultivation facility go up next door.
“This land means a great deal to me,” said Reilly, who says the pot facility mars “spectacular views” of the Rocky Mountains.
Also suing is the owner of a Holiday Inn, who argues that a pot shop opening nearby is keeping away families.
“Marijuana businesses make bad neighbors,” the lawsuit says. “They drive away legitimate businesses’ customers, emit pungent, foul odors, attract undesirable visitors, increase criminal activity, increase traffic, and reduce property values.”
Calls to the hotel in Frisco and the dispensary weren’t immediately returned.
Nebraska and Oklahoma also are suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana in 2012. In that case, Colorado has until March 27 to respond to the arguments from the two states.
It has 21 days to reply to the new suits, which are sponsored by the Safe Streets Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based group that opposes marijuana legalization.
— The Associated Press