DENVER – Marijuana legalization stands in Colorado – for now – after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday opted not to hear a challenge brought by neighboring states.
Attorneys general for Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a Supreme Court case in December 2014, after the states expressed fears that marijuana from Colorado was crossing their borders.
The crux of the case rested on the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which essentially states supremacy of federal law over state law.
But the Supreme Court – without an explanation – chose not to hear the case.
The decision means Colorado’s regulated marijuana marketplace can rest easy, but likely only temporarily. Groups remain committed to overturning the 2012 voter-approved law, and Nebraska and Oklahoma can bring the challenge to a lower court.
“The majority’s decision is clearly not a substantive decision on the merits of our claims,” Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement. “The Supreme Court has not held that Colorado’s unconstitutional facilitation of marijuana industrialization is legal, and the Court’s decision does not bar additional challenges to Colorado’s scheme in federal district court.”
Nebraska and Oklahoma are weighing options to move forward with the case.
Justice Clarence Thomas sided with the two states, offering a dissenting opinion. Justice Samuel Alito joined Thomas in dissenting.
“They (Nebraska and Oklahoma) claim that Amendment 64 has ‘increased trafficking and transportation of Colorado-sourced marijuana’ into their territories, requiring them to expend significant ‘law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources’ to combat the increased trafficking and transportation of marijuana,” Thomas wrote.
He added: “The plaintiff States have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another State. Whatever the merit of the plaintiff States’ claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.”
Nebraska and Oklahoma petitioned the Supreme Court directly because the case involves a dispute between states.
Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman defended Colorado in the case.
“I continue to believe that this lawsuit was not the way to properly address the challenges posed by legalized marijuana,” Coffman said in a statement. “But the problems are not going away. Although we’ve had victories in several federal lawsuits over the last month, the legal questions surrounding Amendment 64 still require stronger leadership from Washington.”
Those behind marijuana legalization in Colorado cheered the high court’s ruling.
“This was a meritless lawsuit, and the court made the right decision,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and a lead proponent of Amendment 64. “States have every right to regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana, just as Nebraska and Oklahoma have the right to maintain their failed prohibition policies.
“Colorado has done more to control marijuana than just about any other state in the nation. It will continue to set an example for other states that are considering similar laws in legislatures and at the ballot box.”
Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, a national marijuana advocacy group, added: “There’s no question about it: 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.
“The notion of the Supreme Court standing in the way could have cast a dark shadow on the marijuana ballot measures voters will consider this November. ... At the end of the day, if officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma are upset about how much time and resources their police are spending on marijuana cases, as they said in their briefs, they should join Colorado in replacing prohibition with legalization.”