Colorado marijuana legalization

Colorado Marijuana Lawsuit: Obama Administration Asks Supreme Court To Reject Suit Filed By Neighboring States

The Obama Administration has asked the Supreme Court not to hear a lawsuit against Colorado by neighboring states over Colorado’s legalized marijuana, the New York Times is reporting.

Back in 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma – two states that border Colorado – filed a lawsuit (Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado) over the Centennial State’s legalized marijuana program. The two neighboring states argued that Colorado’s marijuana legalization has resulted in pot being illegally brought into their states from Colorado, undermining their own marijuana laws, causing a drain on their law enforcement resources, and overwhelming their criminal justice systems.

Colorado marijuana legalization
Nebraska and Oklahoma claim legal pot purchased in Colorado is overwhelming their criminal justice systems. [Image via Shutterstock/bikeriderlondon]

In an extremely rare move, the two states sued Colorado directly to the Supreme Court, rather than filing in federal court.

Before even deciding whether or not to even hear the case, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. for an opinion (the Solicitor General acts on behalf of the federal government in Supreme Court cases and officially determines what position the government will take in any Supreme Court case).

Colorado marijuana legalization
Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

In his brief, filed Wednesday, Verrilli argued that for the Supreme Court to involve itself in Oklahoma and Nebraska’s complaint against Colorado is beyond the scope of the Supreme Court’s power.

“At most, [Oklahoma and Nebraska] have alleged that third-party lawbreakers are inflicting those injuries, and that Colorado’s legal regime makes it easier for them to do so. Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here — essentially that one state’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another state — would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this court’s original jurisdiction.”

Verrilli argued further that since Colorado’s legal marijuana system only allows for a person to possess up to an ounce at a time, it hardly creates a situation where a significant amount of illegal pot is flooding into Nebraska and Oklahoma via Colorado.

Verrilli’s opinion is not the final word on Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado. The Supreme Court could ignore Verrilli’s brief and agree to hear the case anyway, although such a move would be unlikely. If the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, Nebraska’s and Oklahoma’s Attorneys General could still file their case in federal court.

That is not to say that everyone in those states is on board with the idea of suing Colorado over its legal marijuana program. In January, according to the Huffington Post, a group of Oklahoma Republicans sent an open letter to Attorney General Scott Pruitt (also a Republican), asking him to drop the case.

“We have some serious concerns about this lawsuit in terms of the implications for our own state’s rights under the Tenth Amendment. We think the best move at this point would be to quietly drop the action against Colorado and, if necessary, defend the state’s right to set its own policies.”

Pruitt ignored his fellow Republicans and did not drop the case.

Despite Verrilli’s brief, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Obama administration “steadfastly opposes” marijuana legalization. However, the administration has also promised not to interfere in states that want to legalize pot, whether for medical or recreational purchases, as long as those states make an effort to keep pot out of the hands of children. Further, the Justice Department has stated that it simply has neither the time nor the resources to go after pot retailers in Colorado and other states and will focus its efforts on keeping pot away from kids and off of federal property.

Do you believe Nebraska and Oklahoma are right to sue Colorado over marijuana legalization? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Image via Shutterstock/Matthew Benoit]

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