Cannabis in America

Nebraska and Oklahoma Sue Colorado Over Marijuana Legalization

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Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, and officially started selling it in the beginning of this year. Now, almost a year later, Colorado is experiencing some backlash for its choice to legalize. Two of Colorado’s neighbors–Nebraska and Oklahoma–are suing the state because of the impact of legal marijuana within their borders.

Nebraska and Oklahoma have filed a lawsuit petitioning the Supreme Court to declare Colorado’s legalization of marijuana unconstitutional. Leading the charge are Nebraska and Oklahoma’s Attorneys General: John Bruning and E. Scott Pruitt.

The reason that they’re bringing it before the court is that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Nebraska and Oklahoma’s constitutional argument has to do with the supremacy clause, which essentially says that federal law supersedes state law. Still it’s going to be a tough argument to make, given that Nebraska and Oklahoma are trying to make changes to what goes on within another state. Cases that center on disputes between states are pretty rare–although they do definitely fall within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Since 1960, only 140 such cases have been brought in front of the Supreme Court, and they’ve refused to hear about half of those. The court has not yet said whether or not they’ll consider this one.

While Nebraska and Oklahoma are making a constitutional argument, there are more practical reasons why they don’t want Colorado to have legalized weed anymore. Both states share borders with Colorado, and weed keeps creeping over them. Both states are claiming that this illegal influx is making it difficult to enforce their individual anti-marijuana polices, as well as putting stress on their law enforcement personnel. That’s understandable–there is some evidence to indicate that weed is coming out of Colorado and into other states. As the New York Daily News pointed out:

But the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area wrote in a recent report that the amount of Colorado pot seized on highways increased from an annual average of 2,763 pounds between 2005 and 2008 to a yearly average of 3,690 pounds from 2009 to 2013. The weed was headed for at least 40 different states.

That being said, there’s no evidence to suggest that the increase is directly tied to Colorado’s decision to legalize weed. After all, during the majority of the years included in that report, weed wasn’t even legal in Colorado. As Morgan Fox from the Marijuana Policy Project put it,

Marijuana was widely available in Nebraska and Oklahoma well before Colorado made it legal. It would continue to be available even if Colorado were to all of sudden make it illegal again.

Colorado has every intention of fighting the lawsuit–Attorney General John Suthers has even said that it’s without merit.  While it’s still uncertain whether or not the justices will hear this particular case, it’s an interesting look at the ways in which the ability of different states to make new laws affects their neighbors.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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