By Daniel Shortt
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) rejected Nebraska and Oklahoma’s challenge to Colorado’s marijuana legalization. Nebraska and Oklahoma sued Colorado for legalizing marijuana, alleging that marijuana from Colorado strained Nebraska and Oklahoma’s resources and forced them to spend time and money battling marijuana. The lawsuit did not seek to require Colorado to ban the personal use of marijuana or prosecute marijuana use as a crime. The lawsuit instead sought to shut down Colorado’s legalization program that allows for legal growing and distribution of marijuana.
The Justices’ voted 6-2 to deny Nebraska and Oklahoma’s motion for leave to file a complaint, without providing an explanation.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent, which Justice Samuel Alito joined. The dissent maintains that SCOTUS should not have the discretion to decline issues of original jurisdiction. Normally, SCOTUS considers cases that are on appeal, meaning the controversy has already been heard by a trial court and a court of appeals. However, the Court exercises “original jurisdiction” in a few scenarios, one being when one state sues another state. If SCOTUS had elected to hear this case, it would have been the first court to consider the merits of the controversy. Justice Thomas’ dissent takes issue with the idea that the Court can choose not to consider issues of original jurisdiction:
Federal law does not, on its face, give this Court discretion to decline to decide cases within its original jurisdiction. Yet the Court has long exercised such discretion, and does so again today in denying, without explanation, Nebraska and Oklahoma’s motion for leave to file a complaint against Colorado. I would not dispose of the complaint so hastily. Because our discretionary approach to exercising our original jurisdiction is questionable, and because the plaintiff States have made a reasonable case that this dispute falls within our original and exclusive jurisdiction, I would grant the plaintiff States leave to file their complaint.
In the past, we wrote about the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s complex history on marijuana. It appears that his vote would not have swayed the Court, as SCOTUS would only hear the case if at least four justices elected to review.
Nebraska’s Attorney General issued a statement after the ruling was announced:
We are disappointed by the Court’s procedural decision to not hear this case at the present time. However, as both Justices Thomas and Alito recognized, the majority’s decision is clearly not a substantive decision on the merits of our claims.
‘Today, the Supreme Court has not held that Colorado’s unconstitutional facilitation of marijuana industrialization is legal,’ said Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, ‘and the Court’s decision does not bar additional challenges to Colorado’s scheme in federal district court.’
At this time the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office is working with its partners in Oklahoma and other states to determine the best next steps toward vindicating the rule of law.
According to the Cannabist, Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman celebrated the state’s victory but also acknowledged that the legal concerns will likely continue. “Although we’ve had victories in several federal lawsuits over the last month, the legal questions surrounding Amendment 64 still require stronger leadership from Washington,” Coffman said in the statement.
For now, legalization advocates have reason to celebrate, but litigation will likely continue over Colorado’s legalization of marijuana.