Colorado Pot Industry Threatened By Attorney’s Lawsuit

By Paul Gaita 06/12/14

A lawsuit filed by controversial attorney Rob Corry could possibly lead to the end of legal pot in Colorado.

girl smoking pot.jpg
A thing of the past in CO? Shutterstock

A Colorado lawyer has filed a lawsuit to block the state from collecting tax payments from marijuana businesses in an attempt to keep them from incriminating themselves under federal law.

Attorney Rob Corry, a well-known and controversial figure in Colorado’s fight for marijuana legalization, filed a suit in the Denver District Court which claims that collecting taxes on pot businesses is a violation of the Fifth Amendment, which protects American citizens from self-incrimination. Corry contends that by paying taxes, marijuana growers, and retailers place themselves in violation of federal laws regarding the drug, which is still considered a Class 1 Substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The suit hinges on a strict interpretation of Article VI of the Constitution, also known as the “supremacy clause,” which allows federal law to trump any state or local legislation, even ones that conflict with the federal declaration.

Corry has stated that his reason for filing the suit was due to the high taxes levied by Colorado lawmakers against pot retailers. In doing so, Corry said that the state has not only effectively rendered the whole legalization effort moot, but also encourages black market sales for the drug. However, the suit also creates a situation in which businesses that refuse to pay their state taxes face the loss of their retail licenses.

The hardline interpretation of the supremacy clause could grant Colorado’s court system the right to strike down marijuana legalization, since it conflicts with federal rulings on the drug. Response from both the marijuana industry and Colorado lawmakers is divided between genuine concern over and outright dismissal of Corry’s claims.

Carolyn Tyler, a spokesperson for Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, labeled the suit as “bizarre and [lacking in] legal and logical consistency” while insisting that their office will “aggressively defend the state against any legal challenge.” The suit and resulting debate is not the first time that Corry has found himself at odds with law officials and even his own fellow pro-marijuana activists. He was arrested for smoking pot outside of a Colorado Rockies game in 2013, and made headlines earlier that same year by handing out joints to attendees at a pot taxation rally.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.