An anti-marijuana pressure group has backed two local Colorado businesses by helping them file two federal lawsuits against the state to shut down its "illegal" recreational marijuana industry.
Safe Streets, the Washington DC-based group, rolled out the suits Thursday, just a week before a new law legalizing the possession, cultivation, and use of marijuana in the US capital is set to kick in, if it survives the last days of a congressional review.
Colorado became one of the first states to vote to legalize recreational and medical cannabis in 2012, although it remains banned federally. Safe Streets is now appealing to the government to step in and enforce federal marijuana laws and to "stop issuing state licenses to deal illegal drugs."
"The US constitution says that federal law is the supreme law of the land, and under federal law, selling marijuana is illegal," Brian Barnes of Cooper & Kirk, an attorney for Safe Streets and the plaintiffs, told VICE News. "Conspiracy is itself a crime, and here these marijuana businesses are conspiring to work together to commit crimes under federal law."
One of the suits, filed jointly with hotel group New Vision Hotels Two, has accused a marijuana chain, Medical Marijuana of the Rockies, which plans to open a branch across from its hotel in Frisco, Colorado, of violating federal racketeering laws. The group claims the pot business would drive away its clientele, which it says is largely comprised of "families with children and youth ski teams."
"Marijuana businesses make bad neighbors," the suit says. "They drive away legitimate businesses' customers, emit pungent, foul odors, attract undesirable visitors, increase criminal activity, increase traffic, and reduce property values."
The sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana are included in activities banned under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Barnes said. Any business that can prove it suffered injuries arising from racketeering can sue for three times the damages caused and legal fees. The government can also order the racketeers to shut down operations.
The second case involves two horse ranch owners in southern Colorado's Pueblo County who have filed suit against a recreational marijuana grower that plans to set up shop next to their land. The suit is also filed against state and local officials — including Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and the Pueblo County Liquor and Marijuana Board, who green-lit the development.
"We're very confident that we're going to be able to demonstrate that our clients have been injured," Barnes said. "The law is quite clear on what these businesses are doing."
But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a statement she would "defend the state's marijuana laws" if the cases go to trial, while other pro-pot legalization advocates have also stood by the laws, saying regulation is working.
"Hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana sales that were previously taking place in a dangerous underground market are now being conducted safely," Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which led the push for legalization in Colorado, said in a statement.
Colorado has come under attack before for its pot laws, with Nebraska and Oklahoma taking their neighbor to the Supreme Court in December for allegedly allowing the drug to be smuggled across state lines.
Recreational cannabis has became legal in Colorado, Washington state, Alaska, and Oregon, since the federal government announced it would allow states to decriminalize the drug without interference, if they put in place the necessary regulatory systems.
In DC, voters initiative 71, which allows adults 21 and over to possess two ounces of marijuana, as well as grow up to six plants in their backyard and give the drug away freely, was passed late last year.
But serious concerns about a lack of regulation of the legal purchase of marijuana in DC put the initiative on ice, pending a 30 days congressional review. Lawmakers must work out the finer points of legalization and throw challenges at the legislation before the last day to act, on February 26. If not, pot will achieve legal status in the nation's capital on Thursday, much to the consternation of local anti-pot groups such as Safe Streets.
Barnes maintains that the timing of the two suits against Colorado is purely coincidental, and was "dictated by the needs of our individual clients," who are "being harmed right now by the proximity of these recreational marijuana operations."
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