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Nebraska and Oklahoma Drag Colorado to Court Over Marijuana Legalization

The states have filed a lawsuit against their neighbor, claiming its pot law leaves "gap" in the federal government's drug control operations.

by Kayla Ruble
Dec 19 2014, 6:12pm

Photo via Flickr/Brett Levin

Colorado's law legalizing recreational marijuana is not even a year old, but it may soon be put to the test in the nation's highest court, after two of the state's neighbors filed a lawsuit against the legislation in the US Supreme Court Thursday.

Nebraska and Oklahoma are calling on the US justices to repeal the law Colorado enacted at the beginning of 2014, which legalized personal marijuana use and the sale and taxing of the drug in the state.

The neighboring states claim in the suit, "the State of Colorado has created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system," and that its legislation goes against the US government's Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

According to the lawsuit, the Colorado amendment that enabled marijuana legalization does not provide safeguards to prohibit plants grown or sold in Colorado from being trafficked across state lines. As a result, the plaintiffs allege that the drug has been flowing into their jurisdictions, "undermining marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems."

Congress halted the war on medical marijuana last night. Read more here.

The attorneys general from Oklahoma and Nebraska jointly filed the lawsuit and said they will represent their separate states respectively if the Supreme Court takes on the case.

Nebraska's Attorney General Jon Bruning said the law violates the federal government's mandate on illicit drugs and undermines federal jurisdiction as set out in the constitution's supremacy clause. He stressed that the "contraband" drugs are being "heavily trafficked" into his state.

"While Colorado reaps millions from the production and sale of pot, Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost," he said.

News of the lawsuit has been welcomed by officials in Nebraska, who have seen an uptick in marijuana-related arrests in the last decade. In Deuel County, which lies on the border with Colorado, police made one pot-related arrest in 2000, which jumped to 63 in 2013, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The state also made 7,665 total marijuana arrests last year compared to just 500 in 2000.

Colorado's law, however, did not go into effect until January 1, 2014.

Nebraska's incoming attorney general, Doug Peterson, said the Department of Justice was giving Colorado a "pass" when it comes to marijuana, which "wreaks all sorts of havoc on surrounding states."

Despite being ganged up on by its neighbors, Colorado plans to back its law, and Attorney General John Suthers has pledged to defend the state if the case goes to court. In a statement, Suthers said the state was not surprised by the lawsuit, but claimed it was "without merit."

"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," Suthers said. "We believe this suit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend against it in the US Supreme Court."

In August of 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memorandum saying it would not block state laws that legalized recreational marijuana. The announcement came on the heels of measures passed in Washington State and Colorado. While there have been no moves made to decriminalize the drug at a federal level, outgoing US Attorney General Eric Holder has said the administration would work with Congress if they wish to reexamine existing laws in this area.

Colorado is using tax revenue from marijuana sales to fund substance abuse programs in schools. Read more here.

Follow Kayla Ruble on Twitter: @RubleKB

Photo via Brett Levin/Flickr