By John Ingold
In the most serious legal challenge to date against Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, two neighboring states have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the history-making law.
Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit directly with the nation’s highest court on Thursday. The two states argue in the lawsuit that, “the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system.”
“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,” the lawsuit alleges.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said in a statement that he will defend the state’s legalization of marijuana, saying that the lawsuit is, “without merit.”
“Because neighboring states have expressed concern about Colorado-grown marijuana coming into their states, we are not entirely surprised by this action,” Suthers said. “However, it appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado.”
Colorado voters in 2012 passed Amendment 64, which legalized use and limited possession of marijuana by anyone over 21. The new law, tied for the first in the nation to widely legalize marijuana at the state level, came after more than a decade of legal use and possession of marijuana in Colorado for certain medical purposes.
Stores able to sell up to an ounce of marijuana to any adult with a Colorado I.D. — or a quarter ounce to any adult with an out-of-state I.D. — opened on Jan. 1 this year. So far, recreational marijuana stores in Colorado have made more than $300 million in sales in 2014. The lawsuit does not target Colorado’s separate medical marijuana system, where registered patients must be Colorado residents.
Nebraska and Oklahoma’s complaint argues that Colorado does not have authority to pass laws that conflict with the federal prohibition on marijuana. Doing so, the states claim, violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“Colorado Amendment 64 obstructs a number of the specific goals which Congress sought to achieve,” the lawsuit states.
But much of the complaint focuses on harms the two states say have come to them as a result of legal pot sales in Colorado. The lawsuit says the states have suffered increased costs from arrests, the impoundment of vehicles, the seizure of contraband, the transfer of prisoners, and other problems associated with marijuana — which is strictly illegal in the two states — flowing into Nebraska and Oklahoma. The states say the problems amount to “irreparable injury.”