A Colorado marijuana lawsuit is part of a dispute with neighboring states over pot legalization. The marijuana lawsuit made its way all the way to the Supreme Court, but the U.S. government wants the suit thrown out, according to USA Today.
The marijuana lawsuit filed Wednesday by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. could have a significant impact on the Supreme Court’s willingness to hear the case against Colorado, drug law experts say.
The Solicitor General’s brief comes seven months after the Supreme Court first asked the top government lawyer for an opinion on the lawsuit filed against Colorado’s legal cannabis laws by neighboring states Nebraska and Oklahoma. The new brief addresses Nebraska and Oklahoma’s complaint — and questions its place within the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction.
The new brief ultimately says Nebraska and Oklahoma’s proposed Colorado marijuana lawsuit isn’t the type of claim the Supreme Court normally hears, according to Robert Mikos, a professor at Vanderbilt Law and an expert on federalism and drug law.
“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,” the brief says. “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.”
Marijuana law expert Sam Kamin said the Solicitor General’s brief is “great news for Colorado.”
“Oklahoma and Nebraska allege that our state regulations are preempted by federal law,” said Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver, “and here we have a statement from the federal government’s highest legal official saying that’s not the case.”
In December 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit directly with the nation’s highest court asking to strike down Colorado’s history-making marijuana laws.
The states argued 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 alleged.
In March, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Nebraska and Oklahoma “filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree.” A representative with Coffman’s office said Wednesday they had no comment on the U.S. Solicitor General’s new brief.
The brief makes it less likely that the Supreme Court will actually hear the case, Vanderbilt’s Mikos said.
“I think the court will give a lot of weight to the SG’s opinion,” Mikos said. “So I think this brief and the position the SG has taken makes it even less likely than it was before that the Supreme Court would actually take on this act.”
The Colorado marijuana lawsuit could still be heard by the Supreme Court. But if it declines the suit, Nebraska and Oklahoma could then take the case to a federal district court if they choose to.