U.S. Supreme Court Denies Marijuana Suit Against Colorado

This week the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma over Colorado’s legalization of adult use marijuana.

Despite lawsuit claims from Nebraska and Oklahoma that Colorado’s legalization of adult use of marijuana “increased the flow of marijuana over their borders,” the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday to deny hearing the complaint.

In a 6 to 2 majority (Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas disagreed), the court turned the case away without explaining its reasoning.

Nebraska and Oklahoma, which border Colorado, first filed lawsuits against the Mile High State in early 2014 after Colorado dispensaries began selling cannabis for recreational use. The neighboring states claim that marijuana being brought over the border from Colorado force them to spend more money on “law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources.”

The states were not specifically challenging Colorado’s legalization, but rather the state’s legalization framework. They claimed that Colorado’s manufacturing, possession, and distribution regulations weren’t strict enough to prevent marijuana from being illegally carried into their states.

The lawsuit was filed under “original jurisdiction,” a rarely used Supreme Court process that involves the case being presented to the directly to the justices instead of being handled by lower courts.

In Colorado’s written defense, it argued that the neighboring states should take up their issue with the federal government. “A state does not violate the sovereign rights of another state, by making a policy decision that parts ways with its neighbors,” read Colorado’s defense. Voters in Colorado legalized adult use marijuana in 2012.

Prior to the court’s decision, the Obama Justice Department encouraged the Supreme Court not to hear the case. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed court papers in December 2015 stating that the case was not the type of dispute appropriate for the Supreme Court.

“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 jurisdiction,” he wrote.

What the Supreme Court Decision Could Mean for Future Cannabis Legalization

The court’s decision could be an encouraging message to other states that will likely be considering adopting cannabis legalization in the coming years.

“The Supreme Court’s rejection of this misguided effort to undo cautious and effective state-level regulation of marijuana is excellent news for the many other states looking to adopt similar reforms in 2016 and beyond,” Tamar Todd, director of the office of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement.

In the press release, the Drug Policy Alliance voiced their support for the Supreme Court’s decision and are encouraged by the positive social and financial effects that have resulted since Colorado legalized cannabis.The first of the four states to legalize marijuana, Colorado brought in nearly $1 billion in marijuana sales and earned $44 million in tax revenue in 2015.

“Other states are looking to what Colorado has accomplished: the drops in racially disparate arrests, the criminal justice dollars saved, and the tax revenue raised and want to adopt similar marijuana law reforms,” Todd added.

“The dismissal of this action means that the four states that have adopted ballot initiatives by decisive margins to tax and regulate marijuana for adults, as well as the many states that have adopted laws to regulate medical marijuana, can proceed without interference at this time.”

With most of the 2016 presidential candidates supporting at minimum the right of states to adopt cannabis legislation and it looking as if it may be the biggest year yet for cannabis legislation, the Supreme Court decision is simply the latest in a series of positive developments thrusting the legal cannabis industry forward.