The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed the complaint brought by a coalition of Colorado’s neighbors to the east, Nebraska and Oklahoma. In a 6-2 vote, the nation’s highest court threw out the lawsuit against Colorado. The majority vote for Colorado is great news for the Colorado cannabis industry and population, as well as other legal states, by avoiding a fatal precedent that anti-marijuana groups could take advantage of. Justices Clarence Thomas, one of the two justices willing to hear the state’s complaint, wrote:
“[Nebraska and Oklahoma] claim that Amendment 64 has increased trafficking and transportation of Colorado-sourced marijuana into their territories, requiring them to expend significant law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources to combat the increased trafficking and transportation of marijuana,”
Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit 15 months ago and both sides have been honing their arguments since then. The states challenged the legality of Colorado’s right to regulate and license the marijuana industry, referencing the conflicts to federal law and the burden to the state’s resources and sovereign interests.
The town of Chappell, Nebraska, 7 miles north of the Colorado border, has seen an increase in felony arrests by 400% in 3 years according to a 2014 USA Today article. Chappell has a population of 926 according to census taken in 2013. Thus, the amount of felons and prisoners has increased in Nebraska drastically. In 2010 to 2014, Lincoln Police Department’s issued marijuana possession citations increased by 40%, climbing to 1,695 from 1,191 in 2010. This number is the highest since 2000. With more arrests means more felonies, which means more imprisonments. More incarcerated Nebraskans has a negative effect on the state’s economy and culture.
Marijuana activists see these statistics as the symptom of a larger problem. The chairman of Marijuana Majority, Tom Angell, thinks the answer to the issue is obvious. In a statement, Angell reasons that if the states are upset about the amount of time and resources put into combating the flow of marijuana from legal states maybe it is time to stop trying to beat them:
“[T]hey should join Colorado in replacing prohibition with legalization. That will allow their criminal justice systems to focus on real crime, and it will generate revenue that can be used to pay for healthcare, education and public safety programs.”
Officials from Colorado argue that is it not the Centennial State’s intention to interfere with the state’s sovereign rights and laws. Colorado also fears interference with the state’s own sovereign rights and laws, voted by the people. Colorado officials offer counterarguments to Nebraska and Oklahoma’s suit, stating:
“[i]ndeed, it is Colorado’s sovereignty that is at stake here: Nebraska and Oklahoma filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree.”
Although the SCOTUS decided to not pursue this suit the fight is not over for marijuana advocacy groups and Colorado lawmakers. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman welcomed the victory but knows the fight is not over:
“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,”
Following the refusal to hear the case, Nebraska and Oklahoma are expected to resume the case in federal district court. The Supreme Court majority refused to comment on their decision.