The mountain town of Telluride in southwest Colorado is a popular tourist destination known for its skiing and many festivals. There's something else that is popular among out-of-state tourists in Colorado: recreational marijuana. (Pamela Gentile, Courtesy Telluride Film Festival)

One Colorado sheriff responds to peers’ anti-pot lawsuit: ‘I don’t get it’

As news broke this morning on the fourth federal lawsuit filed against Colorado marijuana — this one brought on by six in-state sheriffs and some of their peers in Nebraska and Kansas — we listened to these officials talk about their concerns.

As plaintiff Chad Day, sheriff of Yuma County, said: “As a Colorado sheriff, I am put in an untenable position because virtually every time I support Colorado’s marijuana law, I violate federal law, and virtually every time I attempt to support federal law, I violate Amendment 64. My deputies and I, and all of our law-enforcement officers, need to know where the law stands, what we are to enforce and whether marijuana is legal or illegal. Right now, it is chaotic and contradictory – and all parties are at risk as a result.”

It made us wonder: Do all Colorado sheriffs feel this way, torn between two masters? Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario isn’t a plaintiff in the case but voiced his support for his litigious colleagues in a statement: “I am fully supportive of this lawsuit.”

So are all of Colorado’s sheriffs on board?

That’s when San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters came to mind. Masters, based out of southwestern Colorado mountain hamlet Telluride, has spoken favorably about the impact of legalization, but he hardly gives legal weed a pass. He calls the state’s constitutional amendments “terrible” and has serious concerns about the way medical and recreational regulations have been written — specifically on the medical side regarding caregivers.

So what does Masters think about his peers’ freshly filed lawsuit against the state of Colorado?

“I don’t get it,” Masters told The Cannabist via telephone from Telluride. “Unless I’m missing something, and I’m not a constitutional scholar, but 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.”

We talked with Masters at length about the new lawsuit, the state of Telluride’s streets and jails since legal recreational pot sales started and more — and the sheriff provided answers that were as direct as they were unflinching.

The Cannabist: Were you surprised when you first heard about the new lawsuit filed by your peers?

Bill Masters: It didn’t surprise me at all. I think a lot of sheriffs still believe for some strange reason that law enforcement can control marijuana, and it’s pretty obvious after being an officer for 40 years and after more than 50 years of a miserably failed drug war that it doesn’t work. Colorado and a couple other states are trying an experiment, and the other states should let that experiment run its course. If we let our experiment continue, it’ll show whether or not this is a reasonable course of action to those other states.

Cannabist: The suit’s plaintiffs are saying this is all about the constitution. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said, “Our action today seeks to resolve a critical legal question — whether Colorado’s Amendment 64 complies with the United States Constitution and therefore with the Colorado Constitution.” Does that resonate with you?

Masters: It’s not about the constitution. It’s about marijuana. To say it’s about anything else isn’t being completely candid with everyone. It’s about marijuana. If this was about firearms and Colorado had more liberalized firearm laws than the ATF had to enforce, then these sheriffs wouldn’t be in such a state of conflict.

Cannabist: What else is it about?

Masters: These sheriffs think adults don’t have the right to determine what should go into their bodies. They think they as sheriffs have that right. I disagree with that. It’ll be an interesting lawsuit, to be sure, but in my mind the train’s already left the station and there’s nothing we can do about that.

Big money for small towns: Track the monthly marijuana tax revenue for San Miguel County, home to Telluride

Cannabist: How have legal recreational marijuana sales changed Telluride — and your job there?

Masters: I don’t see any difference (between pre-legalization Telluride and post-legalization Telluride). There’s probably a little bit more infused products running around, but I don’t see any difference in our crime statistics. There might have been a couple more DUIDs than we’ve had in the past, but that’s not because there are more people driving under the influence. People are just loopier. They think marijuana is legal and they’re not hiding it like they used to. The officer comes up to the car and sees a baggie of weed and wonders, ‘Is this a DUID?’ People used to be more careful, and they didn’t want the police to see the marijuana.

Cannabist: How else has it changed the day-to-day jobs of you and your colleagues there?

Masters: This year we are going to have the lowest inmate population per day that we’ve had since our jail opened. Our jail population has dramatically decreased in the last year. I’m not saying that legal marijuana has people obeying the law — it’s more likely the change in immigration policies that allow people who are in the country illegally to bond on criminal charges. But we also have not seen a spike in crime or other kinds of issues due to marijuana intoxication, or use, or dealing. It certainly has not caused a crime wave, anyway.

Cannabist: So your jails have actually been less busy since pot sales started?

Masters: Yeah, and we get all the detox patients in our jail, because we don’t have a detox center here. We don’t have marijuana detox patients. We have alcohol patients. In fact, we’ve never had a marijuana detox patient. We’ve never had to hold someone because the person was so messed up on marijuana that they had to go to the clinic and get some kind of sedative. Alcohol is still the big problem. It’s our No. 1 problem in jail and anywhere else, and that sadly hasn’t changed.