- Published on Saturday, 28 March 2015 22:33
Arguing that two neighboring states are dangerously meddling with Colorado's marijuana laws, state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman on Friday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a landmark lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma over marijuana legalization.
In a brief submitted in response to the lawsuit, Coffman wrote that Nebraska and Oklahoma "filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree."
The two states' lawsuit seeks to strike down Colorado's licensing of recreational marijuana stores. Nebraska and Oklahoma officials argue that the stores have caused a flood of marijuana into their states, stretching their law enforcement agencies thin and threatening their sovereignty.
But Coffman argued the lawsuit, if successful, would only worsen problems involving black-market marijuana in all three states.
Colorado's regulations for marijuana stores "are designed to channel demand away from this black market and into a licensed and closely monitored retail system," she wrote.
If the stores are closed, Colorado would be left with laws that legalize marijuana use but do not regulate its supply.
"This is a recipe for more cross-border trafficking, not less," Coffman wrote.
Friday's brief is the first time Colorado officials have had to make a full-throated argument in favor of the state's marijuana legalization laws. In doing so, the brief spends several pages noting states' lengthy history of trying to regulate marijuana, "a product whose use is staggeringly widespread." Nearly half of all states now have laws legalizing recreational or medical use of marijuana, the brief states.
In addition to Coffman, Colorado's solicitor general and four other lawyers at the attorney general's office are listed as authors of the brief.
Nebraska and Oklahoma filed their lawsuit directly with the Supreme Court because it involves a dispute between states. Before the lawsuit gets a hearing, the nation's highest court must first decide whether to take up the case. There is no timeline for the decision.
The lawsuit does not challenge Colorado's laws for medical marijuana use or sales, nor does it seek to strike down laws legalizing recreational marijuana use and possession. Instead, Nebraska and Oklahoma argue in the lawsuit that Colorado's licensing of marijuana stores "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.
In a statement Friday, Coffman — a Republican who opposed marijuana legalization — said she shares Nebraska and Oklahoma's concerns about illegal marijuana trafficking.
Coffman's brief, though, pins the blame for that trafficking not on Colorado's marijuana stores but on "third parties who illegally divert marijuana across state lines." The brief points to the recent indictments of 32 people accused in a massive marijuana-smuggling ring as evidence that Colorado authorities are continuing to bust traffickers.
Colorado's laws received support Friday from Coffman's counterparts in Washington state and Oregon — where recreational marijuana is also legal.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Friday in support of Colorado's laws, Washington and Oregon attorneys general argue that Colorado's laws don't hurt Nebraska and Oklahoma's abilities to enforce their own laws.
"Nebraska and Oklahoma retain the constitutional powers of every other sovereign State in the nation," the brief argues. "They can investigate and prosecute persons who violate their laws; neither is powerless to address marijuana within their borders."
The interstate lawsuit is the most high-profile of four cases that have been filed against marijuana legalization in Colorado.
The three other lawsuits — two by Colorado residents upset about marijuana businesses moving nearby and one by several Colorado sheriffs who believe marijuana legalization forces them to violate their oath of office — are pending in federal district court in Denver.
Colorado Asks Supreme Court To Toss Cannabis Lawsuit Filed By Nebraska, Oklahoma
The Colorado Attorney General's Office on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out a lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma that contends Colorado's legalization of marijuana is causing an increase in drug crimes in their states.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman (pictured left) wrote in a brief filed with the high court that the lawsuit's aim to stop Colorado from regulating its recreational marijuana industry is a "dangerous" move that would leave "legalization intact" while neutering the state's ability to police businesses. The court should dismiss the lawsuit, Coffman said.
"Nebraska and Oklahoma concede that Colorado has power to legalize the cultivation and use of marijuana -- a substance that for decades has seen enormous demand and has, until recently, been supplied exclusively through a multi-billion-dollar black market," Coffman wrote. "Yet the Plaintiff States seek to strike down the laws and regulations that are designed to channel demand away from this black market and into a licensed and closely monitored retail system."
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed the lawsuit in December, alleging that Colorado's legalization of marijuana caused a surge of marijuana trafficking in their states and “created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system."
The states seek to overturn Colorado's voter-approved marijuana law, arguing that federal law should take precedence over state law. Because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Colorado's legalization is unconstitutional, the suit contends.
States that have legalized marijuana, for recreational or medical purposes, rely on guidance from Attorney General Eric Holder's office urging federal prosecutors to refrain from targeting state-legal marijuana operations.
Washington state Attorney General Robert Ferguson and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum jointly filed a "friend of the court" brief on Friday in support of Colorado, urging the court to reject the challenge. Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana the same year as Colorado, 2012. Oregon voters approved a similar measure in 2014, along with voters in Alaska and Washington, D.C.
“I am disappointed that Nebraska and Oklahoma took this step to interfere with Colorado’s popularly enacted initiative to legalize marijuana,” Ferguson said in a statement. “I filed this brief to protect Washington’s interests and the will of Washington’s voters from interference by other states."
Nebraska and Oklahoma have two weeks to respond to Colorado's filing. The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will accept the case.
Tom Angell, chairman of drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, said the "misguided lawsuit" threatens to put Colorado's marijuana market "back into the hands of violent drug cartels and gangs" if it succeeds.
"If they really want to stop illicit trafficking and cut enforcement costs, as they say in their lawsuit, they too will move to end prohibition one day," Angell said of Oklahoma and Nebraska.
The lawsuit is one of at four that have been filed against Colorado over its marijuana laws. This month, sheriffs from Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas filed a lawsuit claiming that Colorado's marijuana law creates a "crisis of conscience" for law enforcers by forcing them to uphold state law that contradicts federal laws. Two other lawsuits were filed in February, arguing that Colorado marijuana businesses violate federal racketeering laws.
Current Legal Status of Cannabis in the United States