By MIKE CORN
Sherman County Sheriff Burton Pianalto was scheduled to fly home today after spending the day in Washington to help announce the filing of a federal lawsuit challenging the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.
Pianalto and Charles Moser, county attorney for Sherman, Wallace and Greeley counties, were listed as plaintiffs in the case. The filing was announced Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington.
Wallace County Sheriff Larry Townsend said he would have gladly joined the lawsuit but he wasn't able to show damages, given he's been able to push through forfeiture cases allowing him to recover his costs.
Besides, he said, there's a larger network of law enforcement officers adjacent to Interstate 70 where most of the drugs flowing out of Colorado are being transported.
Pianalto said he agreed to be listed as a plaintiff -- as an individual and as the sheriff -- in the case because he's struggled to cover jail costs resulting from the increase in people arrested for transporting drugs from Colorado.
In a telephone interview, he said he also agreed to join the lawsuit because of his commitment for a drug-free Sherman County, a promise he took seriously enough to prompt him to quit chewing tobacco.
Pianalto said no tax money from Sherman County or any money from the sheriff's office was being used to file the lawsuit, and he said he's paying for travel costs out of his own pocket.
The Drug Free America Foundation is paying the costs for the lawsuit, he said.
Moser said he's seen an increase in marijuana convictions in his job as Sherman County attorney.
"It's been a significant increase," he said.
Both Greeley and Wallace counties have seen arrests as well, but not to the same degree.
"I fully believe it's passing through," he said, and he's confident drug transporters are learning to stay off I-70. But, he said, "those counties don't have the manpower to do interdiction."
Moser and Pianalto joined sheriff's and prosecutors from Colorado and Nebraska as plaintiffs in the case against Colorado, whose voters legalized what's known as Amendment 64 in November 2012.
The first legalized marijuana was sold Jan. 1, 2014.
They're citing a conflict between federal and Colorado constitutions as the basis for filing the lawsuit.
"All sheriffs in Colorado swear an oath of office to protect both the U.S. and the Colorado constitutions," Colorado's Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said in statement. "Amendment 64 renders that oath impossible by forcing us to choose which constitution we will protect. By violating our oaths of office, we commit acts that render us ineligible to hold our offices. The authors of Amendment 64 either did not understand this constitutional showdown, or they intentionally hid the fact from our voters."
Nebraska and Oklahoma already sued Colorado claiming federal pre-emption and economic harm.
Pianalto said the case has been in the works since March 2014.
"It's been tough," he said of being forced to deal with handling the flow of drugs from Colorado back through Kansas en route to other states.
His department's budget, Pianalto said, in March 2014 was already being squeezed by jail and meal costs for inmates.
As a result, he said, he had to shift money from maintenance of vehicles to operate within the budget.
He said while statistics are just now being put together, inmate numbers were sharply higher.
"Our highways are being flooded with Colorado-sourced marijuana as drug dealers are transporting marijuana and its even more dangerous byproducts into our counties and through our state," Pianalto said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. "The criminal activity is blatant, rampant and steadily getting worse."
"We do not want or need more drug dealers or illegal drugs in my county or our state. We have that -- and we have that because of what Colorado has done."
The 44-page lawsuit challenges the Colorado amendment by contending the "federal government has pre-eminent authority to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, including commerce involving legal and illegal trafficking in drugs, such as marijuana."
It went on to say a state "may not" establish policies countering federal laws about trafficking in controlled substances.
"The Constitution and the federal anti-drug laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and licensed-distribution schemes throughout the country which conflict with federal laws," the lawsuit states.
Moser said it has been a long time since he was in constitutional law classes in law school, "but I'm pretty sure federal laws preempt in this case."
Townsend said he would have joined the case but wasn't able to show Wallace County had suffered damages as a result of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado.
"We would have been happy to," he said of joining the lawsuit.
The forfeitures in Wallace County involved more than just personal use, however.
"They've been fair sized," Townsend said of the drug busts made in Wallace County. "Several pounds. They're taking it back to their respective state.
"It's been commercialized."
In the past, marijuana moving through Wallace County had originated in Mexico where it was pressed into the smallest packages possible to allow transfers to be well-hidden.
That's not the case with marijuana out of Colorado now, he said.
"It's a totally different looking thing," Townsend said.
He's also convinced Kansas residents remain opposed to the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, as well as its use for medicinal purposes.
"I'm certainly against it," he said. "I've seen first-hand what it does to people, even worse what it does to kids."
But Wallace County doesn't have a main highway passing through it like his neighbors to the north in Sherman County.
Townsend has just two officers assisting him, and no Kansas Highway Patrol presence.
Sherman County, he said, has more troopers than he has officers, along with officers from both the Sherman County Sheriff's office and the Goodland Police Department.
Moser recalled one recent case where an individual with a small amount of marijuana but a big amount of cash was stopped and arrested.
During the course of the investigation, he said, the man admitted he was en route to Colorado to purchase marijuana and had already made anywhere from 16 to 18 trips, netting him $300,000 in earnings just last year.
But Moser said the amounts being seized suggest the drugs "clearly are not being sold out of the front door of a retail establishment."