Tuesday June 7, 2016
When Amendment 64 went into effect in 2014, some neighboring states were less than enthusiastic. Specifically, officials from the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma feared recreational sales would make local anti-drug laws nearly impossible to enforce.
In an effort to stop what seemed like an inevitable rise in crime, Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a lawsuit against the state of Colorado attempting to force federal intervention on the newly-passed state legislation.
Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma's GOP attorney general, stated that the Supreme court should “address the unwillingness of President Obama’s Justice Department to do its job, namely, enforce the law against the illegal flow of marijuana into ... states across the country.” Pruitt further states that Colorado officials have done little to control the transfer of cannabis into other states highlighting the need for federal intervention.
As Sherriff Adam Hayward of Dueul County, Nebraska explained to PBS reporter, Alison Stewart, routine traffic stops are increasingly accompanied by drug violations through their border county which cost taxpayers money and exhaust the attention of local law enforcement. The lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma was intended to force Colorado to help foot the bill for these issues as they relate to Colorado’s recreational marijuana program.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court Denied the Lawsuit
On March 21, 2016, the six-panel Supreme Court majority declined to address the lawsuit (though they wouldn’t explain why). For that, the entire marijuana legalization movement (and those involved in any and all capacity) should be grateful. Here’s why:
Typically, the Supreme Court is used for interstate disputes concerning land and water usage, not voter-approved state legislation. Had the Supreme court agreed to tackle such an issue, a new can of worms would have opened by expanding the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
According to a brief filed with the United States Supreme Court, agreeing to hear the case could open the floodgates for cases in which states might “challenge any number of laws enacted by neighboring States—for example, licensing laws for firearms that are unlawful in the plaintiff States—on the theory that the laws make it more likely that third parties will enter the plaintiff States’ territory and violate their more restrictive regimes.”
Though the premise of the lawsuit is that Colorado’s recreational marijuana market is causing direct harm to neighboring states, it is not the legal market that is doing so. In fact, it is the individuals who choose to transport cannabis products across state lines illegally who would be inflicting this so-called harm rather than the state itself. Overruling the state’s right to decide their own marijuana laws (and thus their autonomy) is not only unconstitutional, but it is in direct contrast to the conservative leaning of the plaintiff states to begin with.
The Supreme Court’s Non-Involvement Helps Solidify the Marijuana Movement
Had the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the momentum of the marijuana movement may have derailed. With 23 states having legalized marijuana in some capacity and many others on track to do so soon, federal intervention in Colorado’s legal marijuana system would have severely impaired the ability of states to establish, manage and enforce their own marijuana laws. If investors and business owners begin questioning the validity of the industry, the likelihood of nationwide marijuana reform would suffer.
But such has not been the case. In fact, the Obama Administration has repeatedly spoken out about misplaced federal drug intervention. Though the next president could demand the attorney general enforce federal drug laws, the growing support for marijuana legalization nationwide is making this much less likely to happen. And now that the Supreme court has decided not to intervene with state marijuana laws, the positive direction of marijuana reform is becoming all the more apparent.
Much to the disappointment of lawmakers in Oklahoma and Nebraska, the federal government will not intervene in Colorado’s recreational marijuana system. It looks like they’ll just have to adjust their own drug policies to catch up with reform or keep footing the bill for their outdated model.
What do you think of the lawsuit against Colorado’s recreational marijuana market?
Photo Credit: Jeff Kubina (Public Domain)