Supreme Court Rejects Neighboring States’ Lawsuit Against Legal Colorado Pot

The United States Supreme Court announced Monday that it will not hear a challenge to Colorado’s recreational marijuana legalization brought by neighboring states Oklahoma and Nebraska, the New York Times is reporting.

In 2014, Colorado’s neighbors, Oklahoma and Nebraska, took the unusual step of filing their complaint against Colorado directly with the Supreme Court. The attorneys general of both states alleged that Colorado’s legalized pot laws were allowing the flow of marijuana into their states, putting undue hardship on those states’ police agencies, courts, and social services systems.

“The state of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects and profits from a sprawling $100-million-per-month marijuana growing, processing and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 states in 2014. If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel.”

In 2015, the Obama administration directed Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., the federal government’s top appellate lawyer, with writing on non-binding opinion on whether or not the Supreme Court should hear the case. Verrilli urged the Court to dismiss the case.

“Nebraska and Oklahoma essentially contend that Colorado’s authorization of licensed intrastate marijuana production and distribution increases the likelihood that third parties will commit criminal offenses in Nebraska and Oklahoma by bringing marijuana purchased from licensed entities in Colorado into those states. But they do not allege that Colorado has directed or authorized any individual to transport marijuana into their territories in violation of their laws.”

The move to appeal directly to the Supreme Court was an unusual one, say legal observers, who note that when the Supreme Court hears disputes between states, the case is generally about border disputes or access to waterways. Only rarely has the Supreme Court been called upon to address a complaint that one state’s laws are harming another state.

And in the case of Colorado’s marijuana legalization and its alleged harm to Nebraska and Oklahoma, the Supreme Court won’t be hearing this dispute, either. In an unsigned 6-2 decision, the Court declined to hear the neighboring states’ complaints.

Only justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, according to the Los Angeles Times. Writing for the dissent, Thomas wrote that the Court had a duty to hear Nebraska and Oklahoma’s complaint.

“The plaintiff states have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another state. We should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.”

Tom Angell, the spokesperson for marijuana legalization organization Marijuana Majority, praised the Court’s decision.

“This is good news for legalization supporters This case, if it went forward and the court ruled the wrong way, had the potential to roll back many of the gains our movement has achieved to date.”

Meanwhile, the attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska claimed that the Court’s means the Justice Department has “turned its back” on federal anti-marijuana laws (marijuana remains illegal at the federal level) and allowed federal law to be “dismantled by piecemeal nullification.”

The Court’s rejection of Nebraska and Oklahoma’s lawsuit does not necessarily mean that Colorado is out of the woods when it comes to outside challenges to its pot legalization laws. The Obama administration has directed the Justice Department not to devote resources to interfering in states that have legalized marijuana, either for medicinal or recreational use. However, that could change with no warning, especially if the next president — whoever that may be — declines to follow in Obama administration’s footsteps.

Do you believe the Supreme Court was right to refuse to hear Nebraska and Oklahoma’s lawsuit against Colorado and its legal pot system?

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