The State of Colorado asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a lawsuit that seeks to overturn its legal marijuana laws.
Officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma, two deep-red states that border Colorado, recently sued in federal court to invalidate the voter-approved law that allows recreational cannabis in that state.
Nebraska and Oklahoma authorities claim huge amounts of marijuana are pouring over their borders as a result of legalization in Colorado. Officials there deny this claim and say the best solution is for complaining states to enact cannabis reform themselves.
In Colorado’s legal argument, filed in late March, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Oklahoma and Nebraska are unfairly blaming Colorado for their inability to control a drug whose use is “staggeringly widespread.” Colorado shouldn’t be punished for trying to regulate marijuana in a more sensible manner, Coffman argued.
Complaining states should take it up with feds
She pointed out that the federal government explicitly allows states to legalize cannabis for recreational or medicinal use. If other states have problems with the way the government enforces federal-anti drug laws, they should take it up with the feds, Coffman said.
“At bottom, then, the plaintiff states’ quarrel is not with Colorado but with the federal government’s ‘relaxed view of enforcement obligations under the CSA’,” Coffman said, referring to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. “Indeed, it is Colorado’s sovereignty that is at stake here: Nebraska and Oklahoma filed this case in the attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree.”
If Nebraska and Oklahoma win their lawsuit – an unlikely but not impossible outcome – they would be able to fundamentally alter the laws of Colorado. Marijuana possession would still be legal, but Colorado would be barred from allowing or regulating a retail cannabis industry.
Colorado argues that states should not have that much power
Colorado and its supporters argue that no state should have that kind of power over its sovereign neighbors. Coffman noted that neither Nebraska nor Oklahoma complained when Colorado opened its medical marijuana system more than 14 years ago.
Officials in Oklahoma and Nebraska point to numbers showing a dramatic increase in marijuana crimes in counties that abut Colorado. But those numbers are likely inflated, and may owe more to a growing political focus on cannabis crimes in border communities than to any great increase in interstate smuggling.
Officials from Washington and Oregon, both of which have legalized recreational and medical cannabis, backed Colorado’s case in briefs filed with the Supreme Court. They said their reforms reflect a growing consensus that marijuana laws should change.
Supporters of the Colorado law said scrapping the state’s tightly regulated cannabis system would only make smuggling problems worse.
“If Nebraska and Oklahoma succeed with this misguided lawsuit, it will only put the market back into the hands of violent drug cartels and gangs,” said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority. “If they really want to stop illicit trafficking and cut enforcement costs, as they say in their lawsuit, they too will move to end prohibition one day. They should do that sooner rather than later, and in the meantime should at least stop trying to prevent other states from enacting effective, modern marijuana policies.”