Safe Streets Alliance et al. v. John Hickenlooper, et al. – Good News, Bad News

C1_8734_r_xA ruling issued on June 7th by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, in response to a series of legal challenges to Colorado’s adult cannabis use regulations, includes both good news and bad news.

The Good News

Most importantly for the legalization movement nationwide, the appeals court rejected the argument raised by the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma that Amendment 64 in Colorado, the voter initiative that legalized and regulated the adult use of marijuana, was preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act. That argument, made by these neighboring states, if accepted by the court, would have voided Amendment 64.

It should be noted that this was not a definitive ruling on the federal preemption argument. Rather, it was a procedural ruling, finding that only the US Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states. (The Supreme Court declined to consider a similar challenge in 2016.)

In fact, it was only after the Supreme Court had rejected their motion that the two states elected to raise these same issues with the 10th Circuit, by filing a motion to intervene in the Safe Streets case.

Also a big win, the Circuit Court rejected a similar attempt by a group of sheriffs and prosecutors from Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska to use the US Controlled Substances Act and the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution to enjoin the enforcement of Amendment 64. The court found that the Supremacy Clause “does not give rise to a private right of action.”

Hopefully this will give pause to other anti-marijuana zealots out there who might wish to use the federal preemption argument to undermine the various state legalization laws.

The Bad News

The bad news is that the 10th Circuit did reinstate a civil RICO complaint filed by private landowners in Colorado against a state-licensed indoor cultivation center, alleging it had caused a noxious odor that damaged their property value. The appellate court remanded the case back to the US District Court for further proceedings to allow the plaintiffs to attempt to prove their RICO claims.

While this is necessarily concerning to those in the state-legal cultivation industry, since the problems presented by the odors emanating from large grow operations is a theme which has been raised in several Colorado communities, it likely does not open the floodgates for every neighbor to bring a RICO suit against any cultivation center. Rather it likely will accelerate the adoption of the most effective technology by cultivation centers to minimize the odor of marijuana.

In the court’s own words, “We are not suggesting that every private citizen purportedly aggrieved by another person, a group, or an enterprise that is manufacturing, distributing, selling, or using marijuana may pursue a claim under RICO. Nor are we implying that every person tangentially injured in his business or property by such activities has a viable RICO claim. Rather, we hold only that the Reillys alleged sufficient facts to plausibly establish the requisite elements of their claims against the Marijuana Growers here.”

Study: Per Se Drugged Driving Laws Have Little Or No Impact On Traffic Deaths

The imposition of so-called per se drugged driving laws, which create new traffic safety violations for drivers who operate a vehicle with the presence of trace amounts of certain controlled substances and/or their inert metabolites (byproducts) in their blood or urine, do not reduce incidences of traffic safety deaths.

That’s the conclusion of a just-published study by economists at the University of Colorado, Denver and Montana State University. The study is available from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Germany as a Discussion Paper.

Since 1990, 11 states have passed so-called zero-tolerant per se drugged driving laws which make it illegal for one to drive with detectable levels of a controlled substance in his or her system. Five additional states have passed similar laws specifying non-zero limits for controlled substances or their metabolites. Fourteen (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) of these sixteen states impose these strict liability per se standards for cannabis. Recently, the White House Office of National Drug Control has recommended zero tolerant per se drug standards for all US states.

Using state-level data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for the period 1990-2010, authors examined the relationship between the adoption of controlled substance per se thresholds and overall incidences of traffic fatalities. They found that the relationship is statistically indistinguishable from zero and concluded that there is no evidence that these limits reduced traffic deaths.

Authors reported: “Despite the fact that these laws have been touted by politicians and academics as an effective strategy for making our roadways safer, we find no evidence that they reduce traffic fatalities. … [W]e cannot determine why per se drugged driving laws do not work, and leave this issue to future researchers. However, our results clearly indicate that, as currently implemented, laws that make it illegal to drive with detectable levels of a controlled substance in the system have little to no effect on traffic fatalities.”

In November, Washington state voters approved Initiative 502, which legalizes the private use and retail sale of cannabis to adults, but also imposes a 5ng/ml THC/blood per se limit for drivers over the age of 21. In Colorado, where voters on Election Day similarly legalized cannabis, Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Senator Steven King are calling for the passage of nearly identical per se cannabis legislation.

NORML has consistently opposed the imposition of stand-alone per se limits for cannabinoids, arguing that the presence of THC in blood, particularly at lower levels, is an inconsistent predictor of behavioral impairment, particularly in more frequent consumers who may potentially test positive for trace, residual THC levels in their blood for periods of time exceeding any period of acute impairment.

Operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of cannabis is already a criminal offense in all 50 states. However, in order for one to gain a criminal conviction under most state DUI laws, prosecutors must prove that a motorist recently ingested cannabis and that doing so prohibited him or her from driving safely.

Full text of the study, “Per Se Drugged Driving Laws and Traffic Fatalities,” is available online here. A separate paper previously published by the same authors reported that the passage of statewide medical marijuana laws is associated with decreased incidences of traffic fatalities.

It’s Official: Cannabis Possession And Cultivation Now Legal In Colorado

History was made once again today when Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an Executive Order that makes an “official declaration of the vote” related to Amendment 64. This declaration formalizes the amendment as part of the state Constitution and makes legal the personal use, possession and limited home-growing of marijuana under Colorado law for adults 21 years of age and older.

“Voters were loud and clear on Election Day,” Gov. Hickenlooper said in a prepared statement. “We will begin working immediately with the General Assembly and state agencies to implement Amendment 64.”

Colorado joins Washington as the first two states in modern history to legalize the consumption of cannabis by adults.

As of today, the following acts are no longer unlawful under Colorado state law for persons 21 years of age or older:

(a) POSSESSING, USING, DISPLAYING, PURCHASING, OR TRANSPORTING MARIJUANA ACCESSORIES OR ONE OUNCE OR LESS OF MARIJUANA.

(b) POSSESSING, GROWING, PROCESSING, OR TRANSPORTING NO MORE THAN SIX MARIJUANA PLANTS, WITH THREE OR FEWER BEING MATURE, FLOWERING PLANTS, AND POSSESSION OF THE MARIJUANA PRODUCED BY THE PLANTS ON THE PREMISES WHERE THE PLANTS WERE GROWN, PROVIDED THAT THE GROWING TAKES PLACE IN AN ENCLOSED, LOCKED SPACE, IS NOT CONDUCTED OPENLY OR PUBLICLY, AND IS NOT MADE AVAILABLE FOR SALE.

(c) TRANSFER OF ONE OUNCE OR LESS OF MARIJUANA WITHOUT REMUNERATION TO A PERSON WHO IS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER.

(d) CONSUMPTION OF MARIJUANA, PROVIDED THAT NOTHING IN THIS SECTION SHALL PERMIT CONSUMPTION THAT IS CONDUCTED OPENLY AND PUBLICLY OR IN A MANNER THAT ENDANGERS OTHERS.

(e) ASSISTING ANOTHER PERSON WHO IS TWENTY-ONE YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER IN ANY OF THE ACTS DESCRIBED IN PARAGRAPHS (a) THROUGH (d) OF THIS SUBSECTION.

Governor Hickelnlooper also announced today the formation of 24-member task force to oversee the implementation of the law, which ultimately mandates for the commercial production and sale of cannabis by those licensed to do so. A representative of Colorado NORML sits on this task force.

As I previously wrote last week, to be clear: This is not decriminalization — a policy change that amends criminal penalties for minor marijuana offenses, but that continues to define cannabis as illegal contraband under the law and subjects its consumers to civil penalties. Today in Colorado, like in Washington, cannabis — when possessed in private by an adult in specific quantities — is a legal commodity. And it is likely that there is very little that the federal government can do to stop it. States are not mandated to criminalize marijuana or arrest adult cannabis consumers and the federal government cannot compel prosecutors in Colorado or Washington to do otherwise.

The voters have spoken and change is upon us. Can you smell the freedom?

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