- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2016

The Supreme Court refused Monday to hear a challenge lodged by two neighboring states that objected to Colorado’s lax marijuana laws, leaving in place the muddled national policy that all sides say they want to see cleared up.

Nebraska and Oklahoma asked the justices to hear their case, saying Colorado’s legalization policy violates federal law and that the costs spill into nearby states. They said trafficking has increased as cartels and dealers try to get more product into Colorado.

They said the Constitution calls for the Supreme Court to hear disputes between states.

But the court declined, in an order issued Monday.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., dissented from the decision, saying the Constitution doesn’t give the court an option — it is required to hear cases brought by one state against another.

“The plaintiff states have alleged significant harms to their sovereign interests caused by another state,” Justice Thomas wrote. “Whatever the merit of the plaintiff states’ claims, we should let this complaint proceed further rather than denying leave without so much as a word of explanation.”

Nebraska and Oklahoma said increased demand in Colorado meant more marijuana trafficking through their own states, and they lamented the court’s decision.

“The fact remains — Colorado marijuana continues to flow into Oklahoma, in direct violation of federal and state law,” said Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. “Colorado should do the right thing and stop refusing to take reasonable steps to prevent the flow of marijuana outside of its border. And the Obama administration should do its job under the Constitution and enforce the Controlled Substances Act.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska could take their case to federal district court, setting up a much longer battle that may eventually end up back before the justices. The states said they are considering their next steps.

National drug policy has become convoluted in recent years. Although marijuana possession is illegal under federal law, many states have legalized it for medicinal purposes and a handful have gone further by legalizing it for recreational use.

Colorado voters led the way in a 2012 referendum approving recreational use. Washington state did the same. Oregon and Alaska have since followed, as has the District of Columbia.

Those jurisdictions have tried to work through some of the issues surrounding legalization, such as financing of pot shops, even as their neighbors grapple with collateral effects.

Oklahoma and Nebraska hoped the justices would have heard the case and forced the Obama administration to step in and enforce federal law.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman, who helped defend her state’s policy, said she was pleased that the court declined the case but said confusion and conflicts between federal and state laws still hamper the national debate.

“I continue to believe that this lawsuit was not the way to properly address the challenges posed by legalized marijuana,” she said. “But the problems are not going away. Although we’ve had victories in several federal lawsuits over the last month, the legal questions surrounding Amendment 64 still require stronger leadership from Washington.”

Although the justices didn’t rule on the merits of the states’ challenge, Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, said the justices’ decision was good news for legalization supporters.

“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.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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