Supreme Court Dismisses Anti-Marijuana Lawsuit Filed Against Colorado

Last week the United States Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado over the legal sale and use of marijuana.  Colorado’s neighboring states argued the legalization of marijuana has contributed to increased crime within their borders, and urged the Supreme Court to compel the Obama administration to enforce federal anti-pot laws.

Nebraska and Oklahoma File Lawsuit against Colorado

In 2014 the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma asked the Supreme Court to put a stop to marijuana legalization in Colorado, alleging that the progressive weed policies were creating a burden on law enforcement in their states.  Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2012, has seen the expansion of a multi-billion dollar legal industry around legal weed, but both the Nebraska and Oklahoma attorneys general argue that federal anti-pot law makes the decision to legalize the drug in direct conflict with federal law.  The lawsuit was filed directly with the Supreme Court, which has sole jurisdiction over conflicts between the states.

After the suit was filed, the Obama Administration requested the Supreme Court dismiss the case without listening to oral arguments.  The President argued that there is no evidence that Colorado is inflicting harm on its neighbors, and therefore the lawsuit is invalid.  Since marijuana legalization, the Administration has declined to enforce federal anti-marijuana law and allowed Colorado and three other states to establish regulated pot markets.  The current approach to marijuana legalization could easily change when a new president takes office next year, leaving change in federal law as the only long term protection for state created weed markets.

The lawsuit against Colorado drew criticism from both sides of the political aisle with progressive Democrats arguing that Nebraska and Oklahoma were causing their own harm with rigid anti-marijuana laws and small government Conservatives criticizing the anti-federalism nature of the claim.

Supreme Court Dismisses Anti-Pot Lawsuit against Colorado

After review of the lawsuit, SCOTUS declined to hear the case without providing an explanation why.  Six of the eight justices supported the decision to dismiss the case, with Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.  The dissenting Justices argued the Court should give the plaintiffs the opportunity to be heard since no other court could take on disputes which arise between states.  Despite the dissent’s objection, the case filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma is dead, and anti-marijuana groups will be forced to pursue other legal options to compel the President, be it Obama or the incoming executive, to shut down legal pot markets.

Pro-marijuana advocates celebrated the ruling as a positive step in the continued movement to reduce restrictions against the drug nationwide.  Tom Angell, head of Marijuana Majority, provided a statement to the media about the effect of the dismissal on the future of marijuana legalization saying, “"This case, if it went forward and the court ruled the wrong way, had the potential to roll back many of the gains ... and the notion of the Supreme Court standing in the way could have cast a dark shadow on the marijuana ballot measures voters will consider this November." 

Although the Justices did not provide explanation for the decision to dismiss the case, the action speaks volumes about the judiciary’s approach to marijuana legalization.  By declining to hear the case against Colorado, the court’s message is clear: states have a great deal of latitude in marijuana legislation.  Other cases have been filed in lower federal court by private citizens and organizations which similarly allege Colorado’s legalization policy violates federal law, but until those cases are decided, or until a new President changes enforcement policy, the current situation remains intact and the growing legal pot industry is safe.

Nebraska and Oklahoma Attorneys General Pledge to Continue the Fight

The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit against Colorado represents a setback to the anti-marijuana movement, but attorneys general for both Oklahoma and Nebraska have promised to continue their efforts to enforce federal law and shut down the legal weed market.  Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt responded to the dismissal by reiterating the harmful effect legalization in Colorado has on his state, and renewing his request that President Obama enforce federal law.  Nebraska AG Doug Peterson seemed unconcerned about SCOTUS’s decision, saying that there are other lawsuits in the works across the federal legal system which could put a stop to legal markets in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

With Alaska set to join the three states already legalizing the drug, the issue of legal pot seems to be gaining a moderate amount of steam across the country.  The next president will be forced to take on the issue directly by choosing to either continue the Obama Administration’s position or escalate the dispute by attempting to use federal law to stem the flow of legalization. 

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