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Oklahoma and Nebraska File Case in Supreme Court over Marijuana Legalization
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The first customer in Colorado to legally purchase marijuana excitedly pays for his pot.

Summary: A lawsuit has been filed in the United States Supreme Court by Oklahoma and Nebraska, seeking to overturn marijuana legalization legislation.

The Huffington Post reports that both Oklahoma and Nebraska have filed a federal lawsuit in the Supreme Court, alleging that Colorado’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana violates federal law.


Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said, “Federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana. Colorado has undermined the United States Constitution, and I hope the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold our constitutional principles.”

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is ready to battle it out over the laws. He said, “Because neighboring states have expressed concern about Colorado-grown marijuana coming into their states, we are not entirely surprised by this action. 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.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt joins Bruning in arguing that under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, the legalization of recreational marijuana is unconstitutional since marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Pruitt said, “The illegal products being distributed in Colorado are being trafficked across state lines thereby injuring neighboring states like Oklahoma and Nebraska.”

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Berkeley residents may qualify for free medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana programs are in place in Colorado and Washington State, and will soon be enacted in Oregon and Alaska. However, recreational marijuana is still illegal under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. The only reason that some states have been able to legalize marijuana or reduce penalties for possession is due to federal guidance that encourages federal prosecutors to abstain from targeting state-legal marijuana procedures.

Read about the new laws in Oregon and Alaska.

Amendment 64 was approved by Colorado voters in 2012. That amendment legalized recreational marijuana for the state of Colorado. On January 1, 2014, the first retail marijuana stores opened for business. Currently, 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana for medical use. Further, four states have legalized recreational use of marijuana, as have voters in the District of Columbia. However, a congressional Republican effort is being furthered to block that measure.

Most Americans approve of the legalization of marijuana, and many states are still passing laws legalizing pot one way or another. Many think the federal government will not fight against legalization. However, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Nebraska and Oklahoma, state marijuana laws across the country could fall apart.

Will marijuana eventually be legal across the United States?

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Jeff Miron, a Harvard economist and supporter of marijuana policy reform, said that Congress needs to take action with regard to a federal marijuana policy. Miron explained, “Despite the compelling case for legalization, and progress toward legalization at the state level, ultimate success is not assured. Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law.”

Kevin Sabet is the president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. Sabet praised the filing of the suit: “We support this action by the attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska because Colorado’s decisions regarding marijuana are not without consequences to neighboring states, and indeed all Americans. The legalization of marijuana is clearly in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act and is not implemented in a vacuum.”

Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that Marijuana Policy Project agrees that the lawsuit is “without merit.” He explained, “Nebraska officials are acting like bullies, and they have no business trying to dictate Colorado’s marijuana laws. They are wasting their taxpayers’ dollars by filing this suit and forcing Coloradans to pick up the bill for defending our state against it. Colorado’s top law enforcement officials have better things to do and you’d think Nebraska’s would, as well. These guys are on the wrong side of history.”

Colorado is working to produce more legal marijuana.

Mike Elliott of the Marijuana Industry Group said that, despite the ongoing war on drugs, marijuana is “universally available,” adding that if the Nebraska and Oklahoma prevail, “they will put the violent criminal organizations back in charge.”

Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) supports drug reform and has sponsored several bills that seek protection for state-legal marijuana business. He also supports federal legalization of marijuana. He called the suit “outrageous.” He added, “Our federalist system is based on individual states being able to enact policies that benefit their citizens, without the interference of other states.”

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