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Colorado gets sued by a third group over marijuana legalization

A fully budded marijuana plant ready for trimming is seen at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening in Northglenn, Colo., on Dec. 31, 2013. (Reuters/Rick Wilking)

A third group is taking Colorado to court over its decision to legalize pot.

A group of sheriffs and prosecutors from Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas filed a lawsuit Thursday centered on twin claims. Those within the state say the law — passed by voters as a constitutional amendment in 2012 — forces them to choose between the state and federal constitutions. Those out-of-state law enforcers charge that the Colorado law is doing them undue harm.

“I, my deputies and all of law enforcement in Colorado that are subject to the oath both to the United States and to the state of Colorado are in an untenable position,” Chad Day, sheriff of Colorado’s Yuma County, said at a Thursday morning press conference.

Sheriff Mark Overman of Nebraska’s Scotts Bluff County said legalization has placed an “undue burden” on surrounding states, as jails and courts fill up and those states are forced to cover medical and legal costs of the incarcerated. “In many cases, we are forced away from some of what we normally do because we are having to deal with Colorado-sourced marijuana,” he said.

In late December, Oklahoma and Nebraska sued neighboring Colorado over legalization, suggesting that it violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which deems that the federal constitution and federal law “take precedence over state laws, and even state constitutions.” Last month, an anti-crime group filed a similar pair of suits. As with the prior challenges, the group of sheriffs and county attorneys charge that Colorado’s law violates federal law as well as U.S. commitments covered by international treaties.

“The lawyers I’ve talked to dont think that… there’s a high likelihood that those suits will prevail.” — Gov. Hickenlooper said, in reference to the two previous legal challenges

The lawsuit has one named defendant: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). After a second group announced a legal challenge to the law, Hickenlooper said his lawyers had advised him that the challenges represent little threat.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure there’s no black market,” he said in a late-February interview. “We clearly haven’t gotten there yet, but we are going to redouble our efforts for our own purposes and also for the purposes of the neighboring states.” His legal advisers, he added, don’t think “that there’s a high likelihood that those suits will prevail.”

In the announcement, multiple members of the assembled group noted regret over having to sue Hickenlooper, who has said he is opposed to the law but is bound to fulfill the wishes of voters.

Advocates, meanwhile, say such suits represent the final fledgling attempt to overturn the law by the losing side of a long battle.

“While a growing majority of Americans supports replacing failed prohibition policies with legalization, there will always be some people who desperately try to cling to what’s familiar,” Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, which connects supporters of legalization to “celebrities, elected officials and opinion leaders,” said in a statement. “The people of Colorado and other states have spoken, and now these prohibitionists who lost at the ballot box on Election Day are trying to overturn the will of the voters by making a last-ditch attempt in the courts. They are wrong about marijuana policy and they are on the wrong side of history.”