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Colorado resort towns worry over pot perception

In this Dec. 11, 2014 photo, a sign hangs out in front of the soon-to-move out Breckenridge Cannabis Club, which sells recreational marijuana products, on the main commercial street that runs through the ski town of Breckenridge, Colo. Business is booming in Colorado’s mountain resorts, and the addition of recreational marijuana stores this year has attracted droves of customers curious about legalized pot. But in some quarters, there’s anxiety that ski towns have embraced marijuana a little too much. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Colorado law that allows the recreational use of marijuana.

Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt say it is in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution and should be struck down.

At a news conference Thursday, Bruning also disagreed with a position U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder took last year that the Department of Justice won't take action against Colorado or Washington, where voters legalized pot use for adults.

Essentially, he said, the DOJ is looking the other way.

"That is unconstitutional," Bruning said.

On Thursday, he and his Oklahoma counterpart filed a lawsuit directly with the nation's high court, seeking to put a stop to the Colorado law on the grounds it violates the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The court accepts only a small fraction of cases it's asked to consider, but Bruning said he hopes it will take the suit because he believes the Colorado law undermines solutions Congress has designed to deal with a national problem.

The strain on the criminal justice system has been costly for Nebraskans, he said, although it's hard to quantify how costly.

Bruning said Colorado has become "ground zero" for marijuana production and trafficking, which has led to contraband being heavily trafficked in Nebraska.

The law, he said, has led to more marijuana arrests and criminal cases in Nebraska counties, particularly those bordering Colorado.

In September, the Nebraska Legislature's Judiciary Committee met with law enforcement officers about what they were seeing.

Seizures of Colorado marijuana leaving the state quadrupled between 2008 and 2013, while the average haul went up by one-third, according to a federal study released in August.

"While Colorado reaps millions from the cultivation and sale of pot, Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost," Bruning said.

He and Pruitt are asking the Supreme Court to stop the law while it considers the case.

Bruning said filing the lawsuit meant $3,000 in printing costs, but his office has been working on it for a long time.

"I think it's well worth it. We're talking about millions of dollars in impact to the taxpayers of Nebraska," he said.

Bruning said his office let Attorney General-elect Doug Peterson, who will take over in about three weeks, know about the suit, and he expressed concern about illegal marijuana, too.

But, Bruning said, it was his decision to file.

"I'm still attorney general until I'm not," he said.

Bruning said his office talked to attorneys general in Wyoming and Kansas, but they chose not to join in the lawsuit. In the end, it came down to priorities, he said.

"Nebraska has many priorities, from education to economic development. We can't afford to divert resources to deal with Colorado's problem," he said.

To him, Bruning said, it's a moral issue. Marijuana is a gateway drug to stronger substances, he said, adding that he is adamantly against the spread of marijuana across the country and thinks it's worth pushing back.

"To me this is a critical issue for our state. I don't want it to be a legal option for my children ... or anyone's children," he said.

At the same time, Bruning admitted that his opinion about marijuana has changed over the years. Asked if he had tried it, he answered, "Yes ... when I was in college."

That's not really relevant, he said.

"This is whether or not Colorado's law conflicts with the Controlled Substances Act and whether or not that should be thrown out," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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