Colorado Attorney General Discusses His State's Legalization of Marijuana

John Suthers Describes Legal Challenges in Talk Sponsored by Columbia Law School's National State Attorneys General Program

New York, September 23, 2014—Colorado Attorney General John Suthers brought a glimpse of the future for any state that legalizes the use of marijuana in a Sept. 10 presentation sponsored by Columbia Law School’s National State Attorneys General Program and the campus chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, and Federalist Society.  

James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program, introduced Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
Asserting that nationally coordinated and well-funded efforts for legalization are occurring across the country, Suthers gave a detailed account of the Colorado experience and suggested other states prepare for similar circumstances.
“The marijuana legalization movement is coming to every state in America,” he said.
Suthers related the history of the Colorado legalization effort, which was made law by Colorado voters in a referendum in which the pro-legalization forces had a 10-to-1 advantage in campaign funds. In an hour-long presentation, he discussed his office's responsibilities in advising state agencies, local prosecutors, and the general public on myriad evolving issues.
Some of the questions confronting Suthers and his team of attorneys include: Can employers fire employees who test positive for marijuana now that Colorado that has legalized the drug’s use? What responsibility do states where marijuana is legal have to ensure people do not transport the drug into states where it is not? How can state decriminalization of marijuana be reconciled with federal laws against the drug?  How far can school administrators, facing statistics that show more Colorado high school students smoke marijuana than tobacco, go in disciplining students for marijuana usage when the drug was received from parents who purchased it legally? 
“I have been largely supportive of lessening penalties and decriminalizing small amounts of the drug,” Suthers said. “But I continue to oppose legalization. I believe it will negatively impact adolescent drug use and overall drug use in Colorado.”
 Colorado Attorney General Suthers said states should prepare for the marijuana legalization movement.
Suthers described some of the challenges Colorado faces as it attempts to regulate the drug’s legal use, including how to get around the decision of national banks not to accept funds from the sale of the drug, how to regulate the serving size of “edibles” such as brownies and cookies, and how to ensure surplus supply doesn’t end up in states that have not legalized the drug’s use.
“We have tried to do our best to set up a regulatory scheme to manage the situation,” he said, but the challenges are extraordinary and are likely to appear in many other states in the years to come. 
James E. Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program and the former attorney general of Maine, introduced Suthers, highlighting his career in public service including as a district attorney and U.S. Attorney before becoming Colorado’s top law enforcement official.
Tierney and Suthers encouraged students to consider careers as prosecutors. 
 Students and guests packed a lecture hall to hear Colorado Attorney General Suthers' remarks.
“A tenure in any of these three offices is a fantastic experience,” Suthers said.  
After Suthers’ remarks, John B. Goerlich ’16, Chand W. Balfour ’15, and Charles Mahoney ’16, leaders from the sponsoring student groups helped kick off a Q&A session with attendees.