Gregory D. Thomas, Esq.
This past January, I blogged about a petition filed with the United States
Supreme Court (“USSC”) by the States of Nebraska and Oklahoma
seeking a judgment stating that portions of Amendment 64 – namely,
legalization of the cultivation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana
in Colorado – violates the federal Controlled Substances Act (“Nebraska/Oklahoma
Action”). As a general rule, a state law covering the same subject
matter as a federal law is preempted by, and thus must yield to, that
federal law. Nebraska and Oklahoma argued Colorado's law allowing
recreational marijuana use by adults runs afoul of federal anti-drug laws
and is, therefore, unconstitutional. These states also said that legalized
pot in Colorado is spilling across the borders into Nebraska and Oklahoma,
complicating their anti-drug efforts and draining state resources.
On March 21, 2016, the USSC rejected the effort of Nebraska and Oklahoma
to have Colorado’s marijuana legalization declared unconstitutional.
While six of the Justices agreed to dismiss the Nebraska/Oklahoma action
without comment, two Justices – Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito
– wrote a dissenting opinion, which states that they would have
heard the case and that the Court had an obligation to settle such disputes
between states. The Obama administration had sided with Colorado in the
case, even though the administration is opposed to making marijuana use legal.
It was earlier reported that the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month
could impact the outcome of the case because of his historically conservative
views. However, it appears Justice Scalia’s presence would not have
mattered. Assuming his opinion would have been in line with those of Justices
Thomas and Alito, the overall decision would still have been six to three
in favor of dismissal.
The USSC’s decision is undoubtedly welcome news to Colorado’s
marijuana industry and could have a significant impact on national efforts
to legalize marijuana in the future.