Defendants pared in pot lawsuit
The governor and other state and Pueblo County officials have been removed from the case.
A federal judge this week removed the governor and other state and Pueblo County officials as defendants in a highprofile racketeering lawsuit that is attempting to stop legal marijuana in Colorado. Pueblo County horse ranchers Hope and Michael Reilly and Washington, D.C., anti-drug group Safe Streets Alliance, sued to stop construction of Rocky Mountain Organics’ cannabis cultivation facility, claiming that federal pot laws supercede Colorado’s pot laws and alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The case, known as the “horse ranch-
ers’ lawsuit,” named the grow, businesses that work with it, Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Pueblo County Commission, the head of the state Department of Revenue and other officials and agencies as defendants.
But U.S. District Judge Robert E. Blackburn on Tuesday issued a written order siding with previous federal court rulings saying that government entities are not subject to RICO claims and “that there is no private right-of-action under the (U.S. Constitution) Supremacy Clause.”
Brian Barnes, a lawyer for Safe Streets and the Reillys, said the case will proceed against the other named defendants, including the Black Hawk pot shop Rocky Mountain Organics, which grows its cannabis in Pueblo County. He also is contemplating an appeal.
“But we haven’t made any final decisions about how we’re going to proceed,” he said.
Pueblo County spokeswoman Paris Carmichael said the county has spent more than $100,000 on the case.
“It’s pretty clear it was a frivolous lawsuit being pushed by an ideological agenda, and the net result is it costing Pueblo County taxpayers time and money to fight it,” Pueblo County commissioner Sal Pace said. “The folks who would have liked to see them succeed would have been the black market drug cartels, since they’re the biggest losers under decriminalization and legalization in Colorado.”
Attorney Matthew Buck, who represents Rocky Mountain Organics and some other remaining defendants, said the ruling Tuesday “likely signals where the court is going to go in our RICO action — I believe all of the cases will be dismissed when they get around to it.”
The court addresses cases in order of importance, he said, which is likely why Blackburn ruled on the state and county issues before those involving private parties.
“RICO was designed to allow (the government) to go after the mafia in civil court — not for out-of-state special interest groups to go after local businesses for complying with Colorado law,” Buck said.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who represented Hickenlooper and other state officials in the case, said Wednesday she will continue to defend the Colorado law that legalized the recreational use and possession of marijuana.
“I continue to believe these cases lack merit and are not the way to fix America’s marijuana policy; a policy which continues to raise significant challenges for our state and legitimate concerns by our neighbor states,” Coffman said in an e-mailed statement.
She was referring to the next big legal challenge to Colorado’s pot laws, a case filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Amendment 64. The states claim marijuana flowing across the border undermines their own pot prohibitions and stresses criminal justice systems. The high court has not yet said whether it will hear the case.
University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin, who specializes in cannabis law, compared the ranchers’ claims to the Nebraska and Oklahoma case.
“To me, what (the judge) was saying here is, ‘You wish federal policy were different, but that is not how we do this. You wish the federal government would enforce (the Controlled Substances Act) more robustly. But the federal government has spoken, and you don’t get to second-guess them,’ ” he said.