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.