Colorado Sheriff Obeys the Feds on Drugs, Defies Them on Guns

Justin Smith, who says he must enforce the federal ban on marijuana, takes a different view of federally mandated background checks.


Larimer County Sheriff's Office

Larimer County, Colorado, Sheriff Justin Smith, the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit seeking to reverse marijuana legalization in his state, says he is perplexed by what he sees as a conflict between two levels of government: While growing, possessing, and distributing marijuana are crimes in all circumstances under federal law, these activities are permitted within specified limits under state law. What's a conscientious sheriff to do? As I explained yesterday, that question is not as hard as Smith makes it out to be, since local cops have no obligation to enforce federal law. San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters made the same point in an interview with The Denver Post's Ricardo Baca:

I don't get it….I don't see anywhere in the U.S. Constitution where it requires a local, elected law enforcement official to enforce federal law. We don't enforce immigration law. We don't enforce Forest Service or EPA regulations. I don't see why this is such a conflict for these sheriffs.

The constitution of the state of Colorado is different. It does direct law enforcement officers to act a certain way under those constitutional amendments. But I'm a Jeffersonian libertarian Democrat. [Jefferson] said, "I'm a citizen of the sovereign state of Virginia." I go along with that attitude. I'm the sheriff of San Miguel County, and I'm here to uphold the laws of the state of Colorado, not the federal government.

Smith himself has a similar attitude toward the feds when the issue is guns rather than drugs. Two years ago, he promised to defy an expanded federal background check requirement for gun buyers (a requirement that Congress ultimately did not approve). "The only possible way to achieve 'universal background checks' for private transactions of lawfully-owned firearms is to register every single firearm in existence in our nation," he wrote on his Facebook page. "Otherwise, the federal government could never prove the transaction of a firearm. Anyone who fails to go through with such registration will be defined as a criminal by our federal government." Since that scheme would violate the "Constitutionally recognized Right to keep and bear arms," Smith said, he had an obligation not to go along with it:

Statutes define the specific duties of the Sheriff, but through tradition and law, it is clear, the Sheriff's duties include the absolute obligation to protect the rights of the citizens of the county, and the Sheriff is accountable directly to those citizens. The Colorado Sheriff occupies this independent office which is not a subservient department of county, state or federal government.

When it comes to marijuana, however, Smith sees himself as utterly subservient to the federal government, obliged to treat growers, retailers, and consumers as criminals even though Colorado's constitution says he shouldn't. True, there is no equivalent of the Second Amendment for marijuana. But the national government's authority to enforce its ban on marijuana against people whose activities do not cross state lines and do not violate state law is based on an extremely broad reading of the Commerce Clause, an interpretation that usually alarms federalists like Smith. And contrary to what Smith and his co-plaintiffs imply in their lawsuit, the U.S. Constitution does not allow Congress to dictate state law or require state officials to enforce federal law. In fact, the Supreme Court made the latter point in a 1997 case involving the very issue that raised Smith's hackles two years ago: federally mandated background checks for gun purchases.

[Thanks to Marc Sandhaus and Canna Wes for the links.]

NEXT: Feds to Charge Senator Bob Menendez With Corruption—Looking Into Obamacare Talks, Ports Deal, Reportedly

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  1. Hey I read most of the BOR and I don’t remember no part about the right to hit bongs.

    1. Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

      The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

      1. Yeah, but that could mean anything!

        1. Yes…yes it does.

          Anything that doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.

  2. My screen is all crazy reason. Fix it. Or so help me I will do so much meth and drive straight LA and drag you out of your comfy little offices by your ass hairs!

    1. Ok. That might be a touch extreme. I just get so crazy when I can’t read my Reason. Come on baby, you know I love you and shit.

      1. Would that be a Reason Steamroller, FM?

        1. Your paying for it big man so it can be whatever you want. Also my threat seems to have worked.

      2. …so you love Reason and Shit… Like all children everywhere, though, I hear Reason and Shit, both secretly hoping that you love them more than the other one!

        So, if you don’t mind my asking… Which do you love more, Reason or Shit? What’s up and shit, with that, anyway?

        1. Great. Now I’ve summoned Sqrlsy with my violent rant. I’ve learned my lesson.

          1. Just FYI… Me, personally, I like Shit better, but I have to make do with Reason, ’cause my Significant Other won’t let me smoke Shit any moah…

  3. One out of two ain’t bad.

    1. Still bad. Just not as bad as he could be.

    2. That’s an excellent batting average!

      1. Meatloaf did better.

        1. Cap’n, I Canna Wes until we get some dilithium crystals!

          /Scotty hat-tip

  4. Looks like FoE’s boycott is working.

    1. Everything is at 10 cpi, non-proportional font. WE WON!

        1. Ummm… your neighbor can have a garage sale seven days a week?

    2. Either that, or somebody goofed uploading the CSS file to the web server.

  5. I’m not even fucked up yet and this shit don’t even look right and fuck Sheriff Justin Smith in his Anoplogaster cornuta.

    1. They’re just messing you up a little early today.

    2. *googles anoplogaster cornuta*

      *even more confused than before*

  6. Of course he’s in a quandary – if he doesn’t enforce those federal laws, with the aid of federal agents, how can he get his 80% cut of the loot?

  7. Didn’t we use to have 3 pm squirrels. Is this the rise of the 3:30 squirrels? A less punctual rodent attack if you will.

  8. So basically, Sheriff Smith isn’t retarded. He’s just incredibly mendacious. Duly noted.

    1. Sheriff Smith?… So, I really think we need to look at bringing back STEVE SMITH references into the rotation at this point. I mean this is so begging for it – Law Enforcement,Civil Asset Forfeiture nostalgia and a Sheriff Smith? If that doesn’t scream out rape,I don’t know what does.

  9. Is sheriff an elected position in CO? (Seems to be by his “independent office” statement.) If that’s the case, it’s easy to understand his stance: his constituents are most likely pro-gun and anti-pot. And he’ll use whatever arguments he can to further his reelection chances.

    1. Yeah, probably. I wonder if there is any power in the governor or legislature to remove a Sheriff who won’t follow the law, though. Unless he is still arresting people for pot, I suppose he is following the law, just being a bitch about it.

      1. They can recall him, but they’ll need around 25,000 signatures to even start proceedings.

    2. Hm, I should have Googled this. Yes, sheriffs are elected positions. However, Amendment 64 passed with nearly 55% of the vote in Larimer County. So Sheriff Smith’s position makes absolutely no sense.

      1. Try:

        Sheriff Smith likes guns. Sheriff Smith doesn’t like pot.

        Make sense now?

  10. A hypocritical position which justifies a personal bias? Well, I never!

    1. And OMG, the f’ing FONT. Now Reason is just fucking with me. It’s like reading the AARP-approved big font Reader’s Digest.

      1. Glad I’m not the only one who’s annoyed by this. But the geezers here seem to love it.

        1. I can’t even remember what it used to look like.

          1. Oh, and get off my lawn.

      2. Bring back the serif dammit.

        In his book Cashvertising, Drew Eric Whitman cites a 1986 study of fonts (printed on paper) that found only 12 percent of participants effectively comprehended a paragraph set in sans-serif type versus 67 percent who were given a version set in serif typeface.

        Those who read the sans-serif version said they had a tough time reading the text and “continually had to backtrack to regain comprehension.”

  11. True, there is no equivalent of the Second Amendment for marijuana.

    Oh really?

    Amendment 9 – Construction of Constitution. Ratified 12/15/1791.

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Amendment 10 – Powers of the States and People. Ratified 12/15/1791. Note

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

    1. I don’t think that stops states from prohibiting drugs, as much as I want it to. But it does certainly forbid the feds from doing it.

    2. I hate it when people rely on the 9th and 10th Amendments for anything. Those Amendments don’t actually SAY anything of substance. Indeed, the Supreme Court has essentially said those Amendments amount to nothing more than “truisms”.

      1. I think that is the case with the 9th. But the 10th seems to clarify that the federal government only has the powers specifically enumerated in the constitution. Which definitely don’t include criminalization of possession of drugs.

        1. I think that is the case with the 9th.

          Yes, the 9th is a bit vague. It says we have unlimited rights. Now where would the natural boundary lie? Let me think…

          Eureka! I’ve got it!

          A person has the right to do whatever they choose PROVIDED they don’t infringe upon the rights of others in in doing so.


          1. Sure, that’s obvious if you operate under the assumption that that is what rights are. Which I do. But a lot of people don’t. That would be my preferred interpretation, but it isn’t necessarily an obvious, or the originally intended one.

            It doesn’t really say we have unlimited rights. Just that our rights are not limited to the ones spelled out in the constitution.

            But sure, in my perfect world 9th amendment + 14th amendment = libertopia.

            1. t doesn’t really say we have unlimited rights. Just that our rights are not limited to the ones spelled out in the constitution.

              Then, for the sake of argument, can you please point me to the list of rights I do have? I’ll also need to know, HOW these rights are granted and WHO has the authority to place limits on them and WHERE that authority comes from?

              1. I happen to think the same as you; that you have the right to do what you will as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. Unfortunately, it doesn’t say that in the constitution. The vagueness of what these rights are is the whole problem.

            2. Randy Barnett has an excellent book on this subject. It’s worth reading.

          2. The 9th doesn’t say we have unlimited rights. It merely says we have other rights. There’s no mention in the constitution of what those rights are, how many, boundaries of those rights etc. And no matter how much you were I wish the NAP was codified in the constitution, that doesn’t make it so.

            1. Same question to you then.

              Can you please point me to the list of rights I do have? I’ll also need to know, HOW these rights are granted and WHO has the authority to place limits on them and WHERE that authority comes from?

              1. I asked my (now retired) Congressman a question about the 9th Amendment once. After looking it up in his pocket Constitution, he began explaining the 10th Amendment to me.

                I told him he was reading the 10th, and reminded him that my question was about the 9th Amendment.

                His answer was to look at me blankly and say, “Oh. That’s one of the hardest ones.”

                Fortunately, after 35+ years in Congress, he retired. His nephew, having a “D” in front of his name in union-country, was quickly elected to replace him.

          3. There was resistance to the Bill of Rights by some who thought it would be considered a complete listing of rights, and the gov had a free hand as long they stepped over rights listed in the Bill of Rights. Most delegates thought no government would ever the BoR was a complete list of rights, but they put in the 9th amendment to make it explicit.

            Just because it doesn’t list the right to use cannabis, doesn’t mean it’s not implied,IMHO.

            1. I’ve often complained that the writers of the constitution were too concerned with elegant and sparse wording than with making sure they got the point across. Of course, that may be because they couldn’t agree on anything more specific. Or never imagined that government would take as much power as it has.

              I, of course, agree with you. Using cannabis is most certainly part of a fundamental right that we all have. Unfortunately the constitution doesn’t expand on what exactly our natural rights are very much. And the constitution is only as good in practice as the prevailing interpretation, which unfortunately is not based on the principle of absolute self ownership or the NAP.

              1. It was sparse because they assumed existing legal principles would be used to interpret the document, which meant “if we explicitly list rights, those will be the only rights recognized.” The 9th Amendment was a compromise between those who didn’t want rights limited by explicitly listing only certain ones, and those who demanded a Bill of Rights listing them.

      2. Indeed, the Supreme Court has essentially said those Amendments amount to nothing more than “truisms”.

        The Supreme Court has also said that growing wheat on your own land for your own consumption is interstate commerce.

  12. Colorado’s constitution says he shouldn’t

    I believe it actually says that he mustn’t.

  13. Basically, he chose to make political hay by “standing up to Obama” and capitalizing on mindless Obama hate. The same vitriol, along with the clout of the NRA, that is the reason the background check bill failed despite more than 80% public support for the specifics of the bill.

    Insane. Because he didn’t think it would work. Speed limits don’t work but we still need them and they still help. Sickens me, the idea that we do nothing, nothing, nothing in the face of mass shootings. Absolutely a shame. If this Sheriff feels no shame then there is something wrong with him.

    1. I’m not sure how this is standing up to Obama.

      1. I’m not sure how it makes sense.

    2. And “doing something” in the face of extremely rare and isolated events is not necessarily a good idea.


    3. I know it is a hard pill to swallow that there are some things in life that can’t be controlled. If someone is crazy and suicidal there isn’t much you can do to prevent them from doing harm. Violating other people’s right to self defense won’t change that.

    4. I don’t know where to start on this one. How about with the timeless catch-all:

      Fuck off, slaver.

    5. Sickens me, the idea that we do nothing, nothing, nothing in the face of mass shootings.

      We are doing something about mass shootings.

      We are making it easier for those being shot at to defend themselves when the occur.

      1. If you are fortunate enough not to live in NY, MA, CT, CA, etc.

    6. the reason the background check bill

      Cool story, bro.

      1. They claim the NRA’s willingness to point out the truth about the impotency of background checks is basically an attempt to “taunt a victim of gun violence” who is trying to help others.

        Because we should all be on board with idiotic, ineffectual plans, ESPECIALLY when they originate with those we should feel sorry for…like retards and those previously shot in the head.

      2. That’s pathetic

  14. BWAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAaaaaaaa……..

    I found the Force Font extension for Chrome. Switched to Georgia and I can read the page again!


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  17. It sounds like somebody is going through civil asset forfeiture withdrawal! He wants his gravy train back! He wants to be able to feel that adrenaline rush from harassing people again!

  18. I get paid over $87 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 10k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless. Heres what I’ve been doing,

  19. If police don’t like being called Nazis,why do they act like Nazis?

    Stop acting like Nazi brown shirt thugs and we will stop calling you nazi brown shirt thugs

  20. Another government employee who believes the law is what he thinks it should be, rather than what it is. Hopefully he’ll be prosecuted for some federal misconduct, but with Obama, that seems unlikely.

    But maybe he’ll arrest some former black member of the Choom Gang for smoking pot, or maybe numerous black pot smokers, then Obama will send in the Attorney General for violating the black person’s civil rights.

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