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Oklahoma and Nebraska Challenge Colorado’s Marijuana Legalization

In a complaint filed with the Supreme Court on December 18, 2014, the states of Oklahoma and Nebraska claim that Colorado’s Amendment 64, which permits the use and regulation of marijuana within the state, “is contradictory and obstructive to the CSA [Controlled Substances Act]”.

Oklahoma and Nebraska argue that the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has placed a burden on law enforcement to control the increased amount of marijuana crossing into their borders. They argue that the passing of Amendment 64 by Coloradoans has “created a dangerous gap in the federal drug control system” and allows marijuana to flow into their states. In a press release, Colorado’s attorney general, John Suthers, stated that the lawsuit has “no merit” and is rather an issue of "non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana.”

This complaint was filed directly with the Supreme Court which handles all lawsuits involving two or more states. Cases between states are rare and in the past have mostly included boundary disputes and water rights issues. A case involving the burden placed on other states as a result of the legalization of marijuana in one state would set a new legal precedent. 

Some legal experts fear that a ruling in favor of Oklahoma and Nebraska would have dangerous implications on the already weakened limitations of Congressional authority set by a previous case, Gonzales v. Raich, which expanded the scope of Congress’ power to make marijuana illegal.  Permitting this lawsuit would also allow one state to interfere with the policies and laws enacted by citizens of another state, an action which could also have implications on a state’s constitutional right to implement its own laws. If there is a ruling in favor of Oklahoma and Nebraska, we do not believe that there would be any immediate impact on states with medical cannabis programs, but it could set a precedent for challenging these laws and impacting patients’ access to medical cannabis.

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