Officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma say they will push ahead with a lawsuit seeking to ban retail marijuana in Colorado, even as the Obama administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss the case.
Administration lawyers intervened in the suit in December, arguing in a legal filing before the Supreme Court that the justices don’t have jurisdiction to hear the states’ complaint. The move was seen as yet another sign the government is coming around on legalization.
But Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said shortly after the federal filing that he plans to continue the suit before the court. Nebraska, like Oklahoma, is asking the Supreme Court to hear its case.
Government lawyers say the court lacks both the “original jurisdiction” to hear the case before it passes through lower federal courts and the plain jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. Original jurisdiction allows the justices to bypass the lower courts on certain types of cases, and the plaintiffs say their case qualifies because it involves a dispute between states over one state’s laws. The administration disagrees.
False claims of large marijuana quantities passing state lines
Voters in Colorado legalized marijuana for personal use in 2012, as did voters in Washington State. Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have since followed suit. Oklahoma and Nebraska filed suit in December 2014, saying the regulations in Colorado were allowing large amounts of cannabis to flood across the state lines (despite voluminous data to the contrary).
The lawsuit contends that Colorado is violating federal anti-drug laws by allowing legalization, and that Nebraska and Oklahoma are suffering the negative consequences. It would be a landmark decision if the Supreme Court were to side with those states, as it would allow them to dictate the policy of a third state on the grounds that it might encourage adults to break federal law or state laws in Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Claim: Colorado legalization violates federal drug laws
A spokeswoman for Peterson said he wasn’t surprised by the administration’s objection to the lawsuit. As her comment makes clear, Peterson’s real concern is fighting the existence of marijuana, not the people who carry it from one state to another. He is a classic drug warrior and fears losing his favorite fight.
“The federal government, specifically the Department of Justice, has been providing mixed messages on the enactment of drug laws in our nation,” the spokeswoman said. “Nebraska remains undeterred in our resolve of asking the highest court for their judgment on this issue.”
The office of Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt, said his state plans to file written briefs before the court in January.
The lawsuit doesn’t technically seek to recriminalize cannabis in Colorado. Instead, it takes issue with the regulations the state uses to manage the legal marijuana industry. If they succeed, Nebraska and Oklahoma could force the closure of every pot shop and cannabis farm in Colorado.
In its legal filing, federal lawyers noted that the justices typically refuse to hear disputes between states unless one alleges a “direct injury” by another. The U.S. solicitor general’s office argued that doesn’t apply to this case because the alleged injury is caused by third parties – marijuana scofflaws – rather than by Colorado itself.
“This case does not satisfy the direct injury requirement,” the administration’s brief says.