Verrilli argued the Supreme Court generally has avoided stepping into disputes between states unless it is the states themselves that are at odds. Oklahoma and Nebraska have sued Colorado over the actions of private citizens who are breaking the law. Colorado’s legal marijuana system allows people within the state to grow, possess and consume it, but leaving Colorado remains illegal.
And marijuana also remains completely illegal at the federal level. Oklahoma and Nebraska argue Colorado’s system violates federal interstate commerce laws and the Controlled Substances Act.
“Nebraska and Oklahoma essentially contend that Colorado’s authorization of licensed intrastate marijuana production and distribution increases the likelihood that third parties will commit criminal offenses in Nebraska and Oklahoma by bringing marijuana purchased from licensed entities in Colorado into those states,” Verrelli wrote. “But they do not allege that Colorado has directed or authorized any individual to transport marijuana into their territories in violation of their laws. Nor would any such allegation be plausible.”
Marijuana-legalization advocates see Verrelli’s filing as a sign the Obama administration is willing to relax federal restrictions, or at the very least a strong signal that voters who chose to legalize cannabis should be respected.
“This is a meritless and, quite frankly, ludicrous lawsuit. We hope the court will agree with the solicitor general that it’s not something it should be spending its time addressing. These states are literally trying to prevent Colorado from controlling marijuana within its own borders,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. “If officials in Nebraska and Oklahoma want to have a prohibition-fueled marijuana free-for-all in their states, that’s their prerogative. But most Coloradans would prefer to see marijuana regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol.”
Legalization opponents argue Verrilli’s brief focuses only on a narrow legal issue and shouldn’t be seen as a change in policy. They point out Nebraska and Oklahoma could file the lawsuit in federal court, instead of directly with the Supreme Court under a process known as “original jurisdiction.”
“All the brief says is that the Supreme Court should not be the first court to hear this case,” the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Any argument otherwise either misreads the brief or is intentionally disingenuous.”