After Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Suit Against Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma Should Save Taxpayer Dollars


The cannabis community rejoiced today, learning that the United States Supreme Court had rejected to directly consider a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma against the state of Colorado for legalizing cannabis commerce. Nebraska and Oklahoma hoped to show direct harm with a suit directly to the highest court in the land, an action allowed for interstate disputes.

If successful, Nebraska and Oklahoma’s lawsuit would only push marijuana sales into an unregulated system. (Photo credit: Sonya Yruel/Drug Policy Alliance)


The Supreme Court declined to hear the case directly, with only conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito signing onto a dissent. Nebraska and Colorado can now seek relief in district court and fight a lengthy and costly court battle, hoping that the case could eventually be taken up by the Supreme Court and somehow eking out a decision that forces Colorado to shut down the regulated production and sale of marijuana, as approved by a majority of their voters. If successful, marijuana would be legal to grow and possess in Colorado, but no regulated sales would be allowed, pushing cannabis commerce into the illegal market, a policy contrary to virtually all citizens.

Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell, as usual, was on top of the case and was quoted in The Washington Times:

“The justices correctly decided that this lawsuit is without merit and that states should be able to move forward with implementing voter-approved legalization laws even if their neighbors don’t like it,” Mr. Angell said.

He said if neighboring states are finding problems with Colorado’s policy, the easiest solution is to follow Colorado’s lead and legalize marijuana themselves.

“That will allow their criminal justice systems to focus on real crime, and it will generate revenue that can be used to pay for health care, education and public safety programs,” he said.

Continuing to push this case forward will likely only waste taxpayer dollars. Not only with the citizens of Nebraska and Oklahoma have to foot the bill for their attorneys general tilting at windmills, but the taxpayers of Colorado have to pay to defend their voter-improved law, and all U.S. taxpayers chip in to pay federal court costs. Even if Nebraska and Oklahoma were to win the lawsuit, they would most likely only exacerbate the flow of marijuana across state borders as pulling a regulated system out from under marijuana growers could lead to them seeking new markets in other states.

In addition to wasting taxpayer dollars, the Oklahoma and Nebraska attorneys general are betraying their conservative belief of states’ rights and, if successful, they could have unintended consequences that could harm many conservative policies, such as gun rights. For instance, both Colorado and Oregon require background checks for the private sale of firearms, while Oklahoma doesn’t require any background check on private gun sales while Nebraska doesn’t require a background check on the private sale of long guns. Does Oklahoma and Nebraska want other states to challenge their gun laws, arguing that unlicensed sales easily allow guns to get into the hands of those federally prohibited from legally possessing guns, such as felons and domestic abusers? This is a slippery slope that the attorneys general in Oklahoma and Nebraska need to consider.

Seven Republican state legislators have already criticized Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for joining Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning in this lawsuit against Colorado. As Jacob Sullum noted in Forbes, conservative Republicans, led by Representative Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow), called upon Pruitt to end this folly:

“This is not about marijuana at its core,” he said in a press release. “It is about the U.S. Constitution, the Tenth Amendment, and the right of states to govern themselves as they see fit. If the Supreme Court can force Colorado to criminalize a substance or activity and commandeer state resources to enforce extra-constitutional federal statutes and UN agreements, then it can essentially do anything, and states become mere administrative units for Washington, D.C….If the people of Colorado want to end prohibition of marijuana, while I may personally disagree with the decision, constitutionally speaking, they are entitled to do so.”

Today’s court ruling is not only a victory for the cannabis community and the will of Colorado voters, but also for the 10th Amendment, the basis for a states’ rights doctrine that conservatives are supposed to hold dear. It is time for Scott Pruitt and Jon Bruning to stop wasting the time, resources and money of United States taxpayers. State officials and voters in Oklahoma and Nebraska should demand that their attorneys general get back to work on real issues facing their states and end this quixotic legal venture that won’t accomplish any stated goals and is ultimately a betrayal of their own conservative principles.

(Featured photo credit: By 350z33 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.