Bruning files lawsuit over Colorado’s legalization of marijuana

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By Joe Duggan / World-Herald Bureau

Bruning_JonLINCOLN — Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed a lawsuit Thursday with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana violates the U.S. Constitution.

At a press conference Thursday, Bruning said he was being joined in the case by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

“Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana,” Bruning said. “Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles.”

Bruning said he placed a courtesy call to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers before filing the lawsuit. Suthers said in a news release he was not “entirely surprised” to learn of the lawsuit.

“We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court,” he said.

Colorado’s law, which permits the cultivation and distribution of marijuana, conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act and therefore violates the Constitution, Bruning said. The Constitution’s supremacy clause says federal law preempts state law when conflicts arise between the federal government and the states.

Attorney General-elect Doug Peterson, who takes office early next month, said Thursday he fully supports the decision to challenge Colorado’s law before the Supreme Court. He said Bruning kept him informed and shared legal briefs before Thursday’s action.

“Federal law has declared (marijuana) a narcotic, but our current Department of Justice wants to give them a pass,” Peterson said. “But it wreaks all sorts of havoc on surrounding states.”

Some Nebraska law enforcement officers undoubtedly will welcome Thursday’s action.

Anticipating that the attorney general planned to announce a lawsuit, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman said Thursday he supports the move.

“This stuff is illegal here, it’s coming here and it’s had an adverse effect on our citizens and way of life,” Overman said. “Nebraska, from highest elected officials on down, should do something about it.”

Colorado opened dispensaries for medical marijuana in 2009. Last January, specially licensed stores started selling retail weed to customers 21 and older.

Related Document: Complaint filed by Nebraska, Oklahoma with U.S. Supreme Court

Although marijuana use is legal in Colorado, it remains an illicit drug under federal law and in Nebraska and the six other states bordering Colorado.

Bruning blamed U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for not enforcing federal drug laws in Colorado.

“I am adamantly against the spread of marijuana across our country,” Bruning said.

He said he talked recently with a father who said marijuana was a “gateway drug” for his teen.

Colorado’s legalization of pot use has had a significant impact on Nebraska law enforcement agencies. Many departments, particularly in western Nebraska counties along Interstate 80, have seen spikes in their marijuana-related arrests tied to legally purchased pot that transforms into contraband once it crosses the border.

At the western tip of the Oklahoma Panhandle, authorities regularly apprehend travelers coming from southeast Colorado with marijuana.

During a September hearing on the issue in Ogallala, Nebraska, a panel of lawmakers heard law enforcement authorities express concern about the flow of high-potency pot into Nebraska and increasing numbers of impaired drivers and possession by teens as young as 14.

“Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost,” Bruning said Thursday. “We can’t afford to divert resources to deal with Colorado’s problem.”

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

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