With marijuana legalization continuing to gain popularity across the country states against it were bound to start speaking out. Oklahoma and Nebraska became the first two states to voice negative opinions about legal cannabis. However, it would appear that the federal government may not agree with this negative stance.
USA Today reports:
The federal government has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to avoid wading into a lawsuit brought by Oklahoma and Nebraska over Colorado’s legalized marijuana system.
Oklahoma and Nebraska say Colorado’s legal marijuana system has created a flood of modern-day bootleggers who are buying pot in Colorado and then illegally crossing state lines. Oklahoma and Nebraska have sued Colorado, asking the Supreme Court to block the state’s legal marijuana system. Colorado asked the court to throw out the lawsuit, and the Supreme Court this fall asked the federal government to weigh in.
“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,” Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. wrote in his response filed Wednesday.
Verrilli argued the Supreme Court generally has avoided stepping into disputes between states unless it is the states themselves that are at odds. Oklahoma and Nebraska have sued Colorado over the actions of private citizens who are breaking the law. Colorado’s legal marijuana system allows people within the state to grow, possess and consume it, but leaving Colorado remains illegal.
And marijuana also remains completely illegal at the federal level. Oklahoma and Nebraska argue Colorado’s system violates federal interstate commerce laws and the Controlled Substances Act.
“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,” Verrelli wrote. “But they do not allege that Colorado has directed or authorized any individual to transport marijuana into their territories in violation of their laws. Nor would any such allegation be plausible.”
Marijuana-legalization advocates see Verrelli’s filing as a sign the Obama administration is willing to relax federal restrictions, or at the very least a strong signal that voters who chose to legalize cannabis should be respected.
“This is a meritless and, quite frankly, ludicrous lawsuit. We hope the court will agree with the solicitor general that it’s not something it should be spending its time addressing. These states are literally trying to prevent Colorado from controlling marijuana within its own borders,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “If officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma want to have a prohibition-fueled marijuana free-for-all in their states, that’s their prerogative. But most Coloradans would prefer to see marijuana regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.”
Legalization opponents argue Verrilli’s brief focuses only on a narrow legal issue and shouldn’t be seen as a change in policy. They point out Nebraska and Oklahoma could file the lawsuit in federal court, instead of directly with the Supreme Court under a process known as “original jurisdiction.”
“All the brief says is that the Supreme Court should not be the first court to hear this case,” the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Any argument otherwise either misreads the brief or is intentionally disingenuous.”