Aside from its resistance to making marijuana use legal, the Obama administration is campaigning for the Supreme Court to deny a lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma that aims to declare Colorado’s pot legalization unconstitutional.
The interstate debate over a measure approved by Colorado voters in 2012 does not belong at the high court said the Justice Department’s top courtroom lawyer in a brief filed Wednesday.
Nebraska and Oklahoma filed their lawsuit with the Supreme Court directly in December 2014, contending that Colorado’s law that approves recreational marijuana use by adults is unsuitable in contention with federal anti-drug laws. States are legally allowed to sue each other in the Supreme Court, a unique instance in which the justices are not hearing appeals of lower court rulings.
The two states criticized that Colorado’s attitude and action have counteracted major efforts to enforce anti-marijuana laws in their states and that combatting marijuana attempting to come across the border is a depletion on their resources.
But Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said Nebraska and Oklahoma are not accusing Colorado of directing or authorizing anyone to transport marijuana across state lines.
“At most, they have alleged that third-party lawbreakers are inflicting those injuries, and that Colorado’s legal regime makes it easier for them to do so,” Verrilli wrote. Taking up the dispute “would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this court’s original jurisdiction.”
Verrilli’s brief also mentions that Colorado only enables people to possess one ounce or less of marijuana. Small quantities carried across the border don’t cause the states “to suffer great loss or any serious injury in terms of law-enforcement funding or other expenditures,” Verrilli wrote.
The Obama administration “steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana,” The White House says on its website reports the Chicago Tribune. But the administration has also said that it would not stand in the way of states that are looking to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana as long as there are efficient controls to keep marijuana away from children, the black market and federal property. The Justice Department says it just doesn’t have the resources to inspect all violations of federal marijuana law, and so it will focus on those priorities.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates for less restrictive drug laws, showed praise to the administration’s move.
“Nebraska and Oklahoma’s primary problems are their own punitive policies regarding marijuana use and possession,” said Art Way, the group’s Colorado state director. “It is not Colorado’s fault these states look to spend such a high degree of law enforcement and judicial resources on marijuana prohibition.”