Just as no member of the public is above the law, neither is any official of the law above the public.
Last Thursday, Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith joined law enforcement officials from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska in a lawsuit against the state of Colorado that seeks to strike down Amendment 64. The lawsuit argues for the federal government’s right to regulate drugs and claims that the state’s legalization of marijuana has harmed communities in neighboring states.
While the latter could be a legitimate concern for law enforcement in Kansas and Nebraska, this lawsuit is not an issue Sheriff Smith should be getting involved in. The law enforcement issues of other states are not any of his business, and as a locally-elected official, Smith’s focus of law enforcement should be on local and state ordinances. As a public official, Sheriff Smith needs to put the interests of his constituency ahead of his own political motives and cease his involvement with this selfish and suspect litigation against our state.
There is little evidence to suggest that this lawsuit is anything more than a publicity move on Sheriff Smith’s part to serve his own political interests. Smith claims that the lawsuit seeks to clarify conflicting state and federal laws concerning marijuana, but there isn’t any data that demonstrates Amendment 64’s contradiction with federal law is an issue for state law enforcement. The Justice Department has had the option to use federal supremacy to enforce drug laws for years in states that have legalized marijuana, but according to an article in the Coloradoan, they have opted to take a hands-off approach as long as marijuana legislation seek to keep the drug away from children and criminals. The problem Smith identified has not been an issue. If the federal government wanted to challenge marijuana legalization in Colorado, it would have done so by now.
Furthermore, federal enforcement of drug laws is not an issue that should concern Sheriff Smith. As a member of local law enforcement, Smith’s duty is primarily to enforce local and state law. Enforcement of federal law is not his business. Law enforcement officials are, by definition, public servants, and therefore are beholden to serve interests of their voting constituency. Sheriff Smith’s local constituency voted 55 to 45 percent to legalize marijuana, and yet he is pursuing litigation that specifically aims to revoke that right from voters for his own self-interest.
Smith needs to remember that law officials are not above the public, and respect the decision of Colorado voters to legalize marijuana. Advancing one’s own political agenda is part of local politics, but not at the expense of the clear wishes of one’s constituency. The legalization of marijuana, while imperfect, is here to stay in Colorado, and Smith needs to respect that. There may be law enforcement concerns from neighboring states or federal agencies, but that is a matter for those states and those officials to sort out themselves. Local voters need to remind Sheriff Smith to whom his responsibilities lie in this next election. If he wishes to fight others’ battles, he can do so by finding a job somewhere else.
Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.