These days, fewer and fewer people believe in the absurdity of cannabis being illegal, especially as the diverse medical benefits of this plant are being confirmed by medical science. Unfortunately, there are still old codgers residing in the halls of government who stick to the idea of prohibition, despite its clear failure and the misery it brings to people.
This is proving to be most evident in Oklahoma and Nebraska. While most other states are decriminalizing cannabis, these two Midwestern holdouts are trying to shut down the reforms of their enlightened neighbor, Colorado.
Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a lawsuit against Colorado in December 2014, and this Friday the Supreme Court will decide whether or not it takes the case. The suit claims that cannabis being diverted into their states from Colorado is causing “irreparable injury,” and suggests that Colorado’s law violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution. They believe federal law should take precedence over state law.
“In passing and enforcing Amendment 64, the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress,” they write in the suit. “Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”
If the Supreme Court decides to take the case, there is a chance that it could strike down Amendment 64 and kill Colorado’s cannabis industry which is now valued at $6.7 billion. That would not affect the legality of individuals growing, possessing and using cannabis. But it would devastate legalization efforts being taken across the country.
The good news is that the court will probably reject the case. Four justices would need to support the case going forward, and the death of Antonin Scalia made that less likely. When Colorado demanded that the Supreme Court dismiss the case, the court asked for the federal government’s opinion.
In a heartening move, the U.S. Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli Jr., advised the court to reject the lawsuit, saying it is not within their purview. Verrilli wrote:
“The motion for leave to file a bill of complaint should be denied because this is not an appropriate case for the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction. 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.
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. 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”
In essence, Colorado cannot be held accountable for the actions of private individuals. It would also be interesting to find out if Oklahoma and Nebraska actually are experiencing the purported increased “burden” on law enforcement from cannabis diversions, or if Colorado’s legal sales actually make any difference in the amount of cannabis crossing the border.
If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, Colorado’s attorney general will “vigorously defend against it,” noting that the choice made by the voter should hold greater precedence than federal law.
Oklahoma and Nebraska don’t really have any sympathizers in this crusade. Even former attorney general Eric Holder said that cannabis should be reclassified from a Schedule 1 drug. Kofi Annan penned a great essay on why the War on Drugs should end. Congress has barred the Department of Justice from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
These two states, being on the losing side in the court of public opinion, are making a last desperate attempt at preserving the injustice of cannabis prohibition. What’s more, these supposedly conservative states are throwing states’ rights and the democratic process out the window in doing so.