Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization on Thursday, saying that Colorado’s state-regulated recreational pot program has created an increased law enforcement burden in neighboring states and asking the U.S. Supreme Court to shut it down.
Colorado voters in 2012 passed Amendment 64, which legalized use and limited possession of marijuana by anyone over 21. The new law, tied for the first in the nation to widely legalize marijuana at the state level (Washington legalized weed in the same year), permits stores to sell up to an ounce of marijuana to any adult with a Colorado I.D., or a quarter-ounce to any adult with an out-of-state I.D. Since such shops opened their doors on January 1, 2014, they’ve hauled in more than $300 million.
The lawsuit, filed by the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma, where marijuana is still outlawed, charges that Colorado 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 states.
The New York Times reported that “[f]or months, some sheriffs and police officers in rural counties bordering Colorado have complained that they have seen more marijuana entering their towns and being transported down their highways since recreational sales began in January. Oklahoma and Nebraska said the influx had led to more arrests, more impounded vehicles and higher jail and court costs. They say it has also forced law-enforcement agencies to spend more time and dedicate more resources to handling marijuana-related arrests.”
In a press conference Thursday, Nebraska attorney general Jon Bruning said: “This contraband has been heavily trafficked into our state. While Colorado reaps millions from the production and sale of pot, Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost.”
The lawsuit argues that state-level marijuana legalization violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which establishes that federal law generally takes precedence over state law. The Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as an illegal schedule 1 substance, meaning it’s deemed to have no medical value and high potential for abuse. Nebraska and Oklahoma argue that the Controlled Substances Act should overrule Colorado’s marijuana legalization law and force the state to keep marijuana illegal.
In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice said it would not interfere with state laws that legalize marijuana provided that measures are taken to prevent the distribution of marijuana to minors and impede the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal to those where it is not, among other priorities.
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