by Nat Stein
For over a year, Colorado has been staring down a lawsuit from neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma that sought to quash our recreational pot industry. Plaintiffs not only claimed that legal weed trickling over the border “[places] stress on their criminal justice systems,” but also made a federalist argument that the state laws in question unconstitutionally contradict federal laws. The petition, filed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court rather than through appeal of a lower court ruling, asked justices to strike down all of Colorado’s laws, rules and regulations that deal with recreational cannabis.
On Monday we got an answer: case dismissed.
The justices were scheduled to discuss the suit behind closed doors four times over the past two months. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. penned a brief on behalf of the Justice Department urging the court not to hear the case in December. Then, Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death in February stirred more speculation in Colorado’s favor.
According to Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, who had a hand in crafting Amendment 64, the lawsuit was “meritless” all along. “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,” Tvert said in a press release following the dismissal. “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.”
Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito thought that the U.S. Supreme Court should hear the case because it’s the only judicial body that can. “The complaint, on its face, presents a ‘controvers[y] between two or more States’ that this Court alone has authority to adjudicate,” Justice Thomas wrote in a dissenting opinion. “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.”
While Colorado’s cannabis community can breathe a sigh of relief that this suit got tossed, it’s not the final word for the industry’s future. “This decision isn't really a win for marijuana advocates — it maintains the status quo,” commented Aaron Herzberg of the medical marijuana holding company CalCann Holdings. “Marijuana is still federally illegal and is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it's in the same class as heroin — which is absolutely ridiculous. While states are free to establish their own marijuana law, the federal government needs to reform federal law to allow for access to banks and to reform the tax codes to treat marijuana businesses fairly. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening until well after the presidential elections."