- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2015

DENVER | Advocates on both sides of the pot debate were busily reading the tea leaves Monday after the Supreme Court asked the solicitor general to weigh in on the two-state lawsuit against Colorado’s legalized marijuana market.

The court’s invitation for the solicitor general to file a brief “expressing the views of the United States” involves the closely watched lawsuit surrounding the Colorado law, Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Colorado, a rare state-on-state challenge that went straight to the Supreme Court.

Tom Angell, president of the Marijuana Majority, said the court’s request could be read two ways.

“On the one hand, this is concerning since it could be a sign that the Court is taking the case more seriously than I think is actually merited,” Mr. Angell said in an email. “On the other hand, this could be a good opportunity for the Obama administration to further and more clearly articulate the president’s position that states should be able to legalize marijuana if that’s what their voters want.”

The Nebraska and Oklahoma attorneys general filed their challenge in December, contending that recreational marijuana from Colorado is seeping into their states and thus violating federal law banning pot and other controlled substances.

“The Constitution and the federal anti-drug laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local pro-drug policies and licensed-distribution schemes throughout the country which conflict with federal laws,” says the lawsuit.

“Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice system,” the lawsuit says.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is fighting the lawsuit, arguing that “Nebraska and Oklahoma concede that Colorado has power to legalize the cultivation and use of marijuana.” Colorado voters approved legalization for adults 21 and over by passing Amendment 64 in 2012.

Oregon and Washington, two of the three other states to legalize recreational pot, have filed briefs in support of Colorado, noting that 23 states have moved to approve medical or recreational marijuana, and that the trend is likely to continue.

“These changes in State laws did not occur in a vacuum; they happened in concert with executive and legislative decisions by the federal government,” said the Oregon-Washington brief. “And it is both foreseeable and desirable that States will continue to exercise their sovereign prerogatives by adjusting their laws in fidelity to the beliefs of their citizens.”

Former drug czar John Walters, now chief operating officer of the Hudson Institute, said the court’s request appeared to be more of a “reasonable request” than a clue to the outcome of the case.

“I do not think we can tell much from this action, either in terms of how the NE/OK case will proceed or how it is likely to be decided,” said Mr. Walters in an email. “The Court seems to be making a reasonable request for the Solicitor General to offer the position of the executive branch. Beyond that, I do not see a ‘signal’ one way or the other.”

Oregon and Alaska voters approved recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over, as well as a regulated state market, in November, following Colorado and Washington, which did the same in 2012.

The District of Columbia has approved legalized recreational use but not sales.

A handful of states have seen recreational pot bills introduced this year, but so far all four states to approve legalization have done so at the behest of voters. There is also marijuana legalization legislation before Congress.

States with Colorado-style ballot measures in the works for 2016 include Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada, said Mr. Angell.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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