Nebraska, Oklahoma sue Colorado for violating federal law with legalized pot

The attorneys general for Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing neighboring Colorado for legalizing pot. Initial reports have suggested the two states were acting in response to the costs they have incurred as a result of legalization, presumably for policing the border against pot traffickers of the new era. But in a release, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says the action seems more aimed at forcing the hand of federal authorities than it is at challenging the will of Colorado voters.

“Because neighboring states have expressed concern about Colorado-grown marijuana coming into their states, we are not entirely surprised by this action,” he said. “However, it appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado. We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

An excerpt from the suit, available in full online here. The case coming from the conservative states leans heavily on the idea, disparaged by many on the right, that federal law trumps states’ rights:

[blockquote]The nation’s anti-drug laws reflect a well-established – and carefully considered and constructed – balance of national law enforcement, foreign relations, and societal priorities…

The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution mandates that “[t]his Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” U.S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2 …

In passing and enforcing Amendment 64, the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system enacted by the United States Congress. 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…

Colorado Amendment 64 obstructs a number of the specific goals which Congress sought to achieve with the CSA. By permitting, and in some cases requiring, the cultivation, manufacture, packaging-for-distribution, and distribution of marijuana, Amendment 64 undercuts Congressional edicts, including the Congressional finding that such distribution has a “substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people,” 21 U.S.C. § 801(2); that although local drug trafficking may itself not be “an integral part” of the interstate flow of drugs, it nonetheless has “a substantial and direct effect upon interstate commerce,” § 801(3); and that “[f]ederal control of the intrastate incidents” of drug trafficking “is essential to the effective control of the interstate incidents of drug trafficking.” § 801(6)). [/blockquote]

The attorneys general filed the suit directly with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Colorado voters approved Amendment 64 by ballot initiative in 2012. The initiative proposed that Colorado regulate marijuana similar to the way it regulates alcohol. Legal recreational use of pot began in January 2013 and sales boomed. The legislature has passed a suite of laws concerning sales and packaging and lawmakers gave the greenlight in May to state-based lending institutions to serve pot industry businesses.

It’s unclear why Oklahoma and Nebraska have not been joined in the suit by attorneys general in similarly conservative Colorado-border states such as Arizona, Kansas, Utah and Wyoming.

Suthers, a high-profile Republican officeholder, has not been shy about stating his opposition to legalization. He took heat earlier this year for defending Colorado’s 2006 voter-approved amendment banning gay marriage. He said at the time that his personal views didn’t come into play, that he was sworn to defend the state’s laws, even those he disagreed with. His critics may take note of his commitment to defending Colorado’s pathbreaking and controversial pot laws.

[Photo: John Suthers.]


  1. I think it is a great thing to see a pair of ambitious Republican attorney generals go after Colorado like this and sue – not just under the claim that Colorado is violating the federal supremacy clause with marijuana legalization, but also on the basis that Colorado is violating international law and treaties.

    So wait a minute. Colorado can’t decriminalize marijuana after a vote by its citizens … because of international law? Because of treaties? I thought the GOP thought that these are freedom-killing infringements on states’ rights and sovereignty … at least where things like Agenda 21 and gun rights and climate change were concerned.

    For that matter, I thought that the GOP also hated expensive, frivolous lawsuits.

    Your GOP. All out for states’ rights and individual liberties, except for when they aren’t. And then the hammer comes down.

Comments are closed.