Supreme Court declines to hear states' marijuana dispute with Colorado

By Amy R. Connolly

WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge by Colorado's neighboring states over the cross-border impact of legalized marijuana.

The justices shut down, without explanation, efforts by Oklahoma and Nebraska to air grievances about marijuana-related crimes in their states as a result of Colorado's law legalizing adult buying, selling and use of one ounce of the drug.


Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented in a 6-2 vote, saying they would have heard the states' complaint. There was no lower court decision because state-to-state disputes go directly to the Supreme Court.

"Federal law is unambiguous: If there is a controversy between two states, this court -- and only this court -- has jurisdiction over it," Thomas wrote. "The plaintiff states have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another state. Whatever the merit of the plaintiff states' claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation."

In 2014, Oklahoma and Nebraska complained marijuana purchased legally in Colorado was filtering illegally through their states, "requiring them to expend significant 'law enforcement, judicial system, and penal system resources' to combat the increased trafficking and transportation of marijuana," Thomas wrote.


The states did not dispute Colorado's legalization, but instead the way it regulates the drug and its cross-border impact.

"The state of Colorado authorizes, oversees, protects and profits from a sprawling $100 million per-month marijuana growing, processing and retailing organization that exported thousands of pounds of marijuana to some 36 states in 2014," the states argued. "If this entity were based south of our border, the federal government would prosecute it as a drug cartel."

In December, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. urged justices to deny the case.

"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," he 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."

Latest Headlines