On March 21st, 2016, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the complaint brought by Oklahoma and Nebraska against Colorado’s legal cannabis industry. This is a major achievement for the emergence of legal cannabis industry.
The nation’s highest court has effectively refused to hear a case that would have forced the federal government to enforce its own cannabis laws in states that had passed their own voter initiatives. Overall, the court found that the complaint did not sufficiently show any traceable damages necessary for a lawsuit between states.
Oklahoma and Nebraska Take Colorado to Court
In late December 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed this bill of complaint against Colorado, which could have set a new precedent in how neighboring states could impose federal law against states with cannabis legislation.
The complaint stated that Colorado’s legalization and implementation of a commercial cannabis industry was promoting federally-illegal cannabis to spill over into their states:
“If Colorado had merely legalized marijuana for personal use and possession then there would be no lawsuit from Oklahoma and Nebraska. But Colorado did more than that. Colorado established a regulatory scheme to promote the commercial sale of marijuana which has led to illegal products from Colorado being trafficked across state lines into Oklahoma, Nebraska and surrounding states.”
–Response Received from Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt
Oklahoma and Nebraska relied mainly on emotional arguments, and failed to satisfy the court with fact-based evidence of damages. The previous ruling that Colorado cannabis laws do not promote interstate commerce will remain in effect.
States Imposing Federal Law on Their Neighbors
The Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case is important for the cannabis industry and beyond. Had the court decided to hear the case, it could have lead to Oklahoma and Nebraska ultimately nullifying the legislation of Colorado by demanding federal intervention.
With this denial to Oklahoma and Nebraska, individual states remain free to enact cannabis regulations without reprisal from their neighbors. Nebraska and Oklahoma brought this case to effectively force the US Government to impose certain anti-drug laws not being enforced under the Obama administration policy.
This decision does not shield the cannabis industry from federal drug enforcement in the event of a change in an administration (i.e. a new President). Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
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