By declining to hear a case brought by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado over its pot legalization law, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected what one advocacy group described as “misguided effort to undo cautious and effective state-level regulation of marijuana.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2014 by the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma, where marijuana is still outlawed, charged that Colorado—where a state-regulated recreational pot program has been up and running for more than two years—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 claimed.
Had it gone forward, said Tom Angell, chairman of the drug policy reform group Marijuana Majority, the case “had the potential to roll back many of the gains our movement has achieved to date.”
By a 6-2 majority, the Supreme Court declined (pdf) to hear the case, without comment.
According to the Denver Post: “Because the Supreme Court has passed on the case, Nebraska and Oklahoma could now take it to a federal district court if they choose to, law experts say. The states have not yet said how or if they will move forward with a similar suit in another court.”
But, reporter Christopher Ingraham wrote at the Washington Post, “They’re facing an increasingly steep uphill battle.”
In addition to Colorado, three states and the District of Columbia have all legalized marijuana for adult use. Twenty-three states and D.C. have also legalized some form of access to medical marijuana.
In August 2013, the Department of Justice released a memorandum indicating they would no longer interfere in states that choose to regulate marijuana as long as common sense measures are taken to prevent organized crime within the legal businesses and prevent youth access to marijuana, among other reasonable goals.
Polls show an increasing majority of Americans say marijuana use should be legal in the United States.
And as Drug Policy Alliance director of legal affairs Tamar Todd pointed out on Monday, “the Federal government itself filed a brief with the high court asking that it not hear this case.”
Of course, “if Nebraska and Oklahoma had the good sense to legalize and regulate marijuana too, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” said Maj. Neill Franklin (Ret.), executive director for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to end the War on Drugs. “What a monumental waste of time to ask our highest court to solve a problem that could be fixed with a well-written piece of legislation or a ballot initiative.”
To that end, Angell said, “the notion of the Supreme Court standing in the way could have cast a dark shadow on the marijuana ballot measures voters will consider this November.”
But now, Todd declared: “The Supreme Court’s rejection of this misguided effort to undo cautious and effective state-level regulation of marijuana is excellent news for the many other states looking to adopt similar reforms in 2016 and beyond.”