Pot Lawsuit Could Threaten Medical Marijuana Programs Across the Nation

DENVER (AP) — States are free to legalize marijuana, Colorado argued Friday in a filing to the U.S. Supreme Court in response to a lawsuit from neighboring states that have asked the nation’s highest court to shut down Colorado’s pot law.

The filing marks the first time Colorado has defended legal marijuana in writing. The federal government did not sue to block the state’s 2012 vote to legalize pot for all adults over 21.

Colorado said that Nebraska and Oklahoma should sue the federal government for not enforcing the Controlled Substances Act, not other states. Colorado said the states’ “quarrel is not with Colorado but with the federal government’s” approach to letting states experiment with pot law.

“Nebraska and Oklahoma filed this case in an attempt to reach across their borders and selectively invalidate state laws with which they disagree,” Colorado argued.

Because federal drug law bans marijuana for any purpose, including medical, Colorado argues that blocking recreational pot would also block pot for medical use in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

“Congress has endorsed a policy, at least with respect to medical marijuana, supportive of state regulatory and licensure laws,” Colorado wrote. “This suit threatens to upset those administrative and political decisions.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has not said whether it will hear the challenge, and it has no deadline for doing so.

Colorado Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman opposes marijuana legalization, but she said the problem needs to be fixed by federal drug authorities. “This lawsuit … won’t fix America’s national drug policy- at least not without leadership from Washington, D.C., which remains noticeably absent,” Coffman said in a statement.

In addition to the lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma, Colorado faces three more marijuana challenges in a lower federal court.

A set of county sheriffs from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska have filed a separate lawsuit in federal court in Denver. The third lawsuit comes from a Colorado hotel owner who argues that marijuana is hurting his business. The fourth one is from a southern Colorado couple who say that a pot-growing warehouse near their property diminishes the property’s value.

Two other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, Oregon and Washington, filed their own briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday arguing that states are free to legalize pot.

“Though federal law has long prohibited the manufacture, distribution, and use of certain drugs, states have always been on the front lines of making and enforcing drug policy, particularly as to marijuana,” Washington and Oregon argued in their filing.

Attorneys for Nebraska and Oklahoma were reviewing Colorado’s filing Friday but sent some early reaction.

Aaron Cooper, spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, said in a statement that Oklahoma is not trying to impose drug enforcement on Colorado. It’s just challenging regulations that could be causing the drug to spill into other states, Cooper said.

“The only portion of the Colorado law Oklahoma is challenging is the section that transformed Colorado into a large-scale hub for the commercial growing and selling of marijuana because those actions created a tide of illegal drugs flowing into Oklahoma, Nebraska and other states,” Cooper said.

This week, Colorado unsealed indictments alleging 32 people earned millions of dollars by illegally exporting tons of the drug to other states, mostly to Minnesota. The group is accused of falsely posing as licensed medical marijuana caregivers and small business owners.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice told states that legalized pot that they must prevent pot diversion to other states or else “the federal government may seek to challenge the regulatory structure itself.”

Federal authorities have since taken no such action.

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