Supreme Court Refuses to Disturb Colorado Marijuana Law

Fireworks or Marijuana, What’s the Difference?

SCOTUS Shuts Down NE and OK’s Whining

299122321_e9c75c89a8_bIn December 2014, the states of Nebraska and Oklahoma asked the US Supreme Court for permission to file a lawsuit against the state of Colorado.  The US Constitution allows certain claims of states against other states to be brought in the US Supreme Court.  Nebraska and Oklahoma claimed that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana was harming them by requiring increased law enforcement activities and spending, and they wanted the Supreme Court to order Colorado to abolish its legalized marijuana program.

When the request was originally filed, many lawyers thought the Court would probably not agree to hear the case.  This opinion became even stronger after the federal Department of Justice officially told the Court last December that it thought the case should not go forward.  So, it was not a surprise when the Court announced on March 21, 2016 that it was declining the request.

It’s a Sexy Topic

The technical legal effect of the Court’s decision is limited.  Most legal scholars believe that if the Court had taken the case, eventually it would have ruled in Colorado’s favor.  However, the practical effect of the decision favors those seeking legalization of marijuana.

While the Court did not state any reason for its decision, it’s easy to surmise that a majority of the Justices concluded that Nebraska and Oklahoma just don’t have the legal right to tell their Colorado neighbor how to run its internal affairs.  This is what lawyers call “Federalism.”  These types of cases are normally pretty dry affairs, turning on subtle nuances of the Constitution.  They are more of a law professor’s dream than the stuff of newspaper headlines.  But here, the underlying subject was marijuana, which made it a sexy topic.  door-change-new-beginning-board-wood-handle

If the Court had decided to let Nebraska and Oklahoma file their lawsuit, the consequences for the legalization effort almost certainly would have been negative – not for substantive legal reasons, but because of the negative image it would have created.  Already state governors and legislatures are criticized for backing laws to reduce or eliminate prohibition of marijuana.  If the opponents of legalization could raise the specter of a US Supreme Court challenge to state laws legalizing marijuana, lawmakers might decide that the fight over legalization just wasn’t worth the trouble.  So, Supreme Court’s decision was good for the advocates of change.

In Other Words…It’s Like Fireworks

1-fireworks-colorful-sky-night-japan-festivalOne last observation that helped us put the case in perspective:  We live in Michigan, where for many years the laws regulating 4th of July type fireworks have been stricter than Indiana, our neighbor to the south.  Indiana allows bigger, brighter and just plain boomier pyrotechnics than are allowed in Michigan.  Guess what?  Many Michigan citizens make trips to Indiana to buy fireworks which they bring back to Michigan for holiday celebrations.

Perhaps those bigger fireworks resulted in losses and damages here in Michigan that we could have blamed on Indiana.  Certainly Michigan likely lost sales taxes on missed sales of puny fireworks available here.  However, to our knowledge Michigan never tried to sue Indiana to make it change its laws.  Instead, many Michiganders probably enjoyed a few illicit 4th of July boomers and wished they could get them closer to home.

States like Colorado or Indiana have broad discretion to establish laws and regulations they think are best for their citizens.  That’s one of the reasons we have distinct states.  If the neighbors don’t approve, the neighbors don’t have to adopt similar laws.  

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