U.S. Supreme Court Grants Colorado Extension in Marijuana Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court has granted the state of Colorado an extension as it prepares to defend against a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska, alleging their states are being polluted with marijuana by their neighbor.
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Originally, Colorado was required to file a response to the litigation by February 16th. But in a one-sentence order, the highest court in the land allowed for a one-month extension, giving the state until March 27th to respond.

The lawsuit is being closely-watched, as it could be precedent-setting. Colorado was one of the first two states to allow for legalized marijuana for recreational use. Washington was the other. Twenty-three other states plus the District of Columbia have allowed for medicinal marijuana, and several others have largely decriminalized possession of the drug in small amounts by non-patients, though it remains a civil infraction in those areas.

Still, the drug is still illegal in a number of states, as well as per federal law, which classifies the substance as a Schedule I narcotic, which is considered of the most dangerous with no medically redeeming properties. Of course, this archaic law is inaccurate and not reflective of what we know of the drug, but pending further federal action, that’s what we’re dealing with.

The lawsuit filed against Colorado by Nebraska and Oklahoma alleges the recreational pot stores in Colorado not only violate federal law, but have caused egregious harm to their citizens, which have had to contend with a surge of Colorado-grown cannabis entering their borders. The lawsuit seeks to overturn Colorado’s legalization law, which was passed in November 2013. The two plaintiff states allege their law enforcement budgets have been squeezed beyond reasonable measure as a result of trying to combat the illegal influx of weed from Colorado, and they want to close off the pipeline.

Such litigation directly between states is highly unusual, and is filed directly with the U.S. Supreme Court (unlike other lawsuits, which usually must work their way to that level). The high court still must decide whether it wishes to hear the case.

When the complaint was first filed, then-Colorado Attorney General John Struthers had promised to aggressively defend the state against the allegations. Now, the task falls to the newly-elected Cynthia Coffman, who has vowed she too will defend the state. It was her office that requested an extension with the high court, noting the complex legal issues that must be sorted in order to formulate an effective defense. A spokeswoman for Coffman’s office called such a request routine in cases where a novel matter of law would reasonably require additional research.

If after hearing the initial complaints and response, the high court agrees to hear the case, it could be years before a resolution is reached.

Colorado marijuana lawyers know that while this may not directly impact dispensaries, growers and recreational users right away, it’s imperative to make sure all state-level laws are being carefully followed. Failure to do so would not only result in an individual or organization being a target of criminal prosecution and/or civil litigation, it may end up being used as ammunition in this case, which would have a negative impact on the entire cannabis industry in Colorado.

Dispensaries or grow operations with questions concerning how to best align their processes and procedures with state law should contact a legal team with extensive experience in handling these issues. We’re ready to help.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Colorado gets extension from SCOTUS on marijuana lawsuit, Feb. 16, 2015, By John Ingold, The Denver Post
More Blog Entries:
Study: Stoned Drivers Safer Than Drunk Drivers, Feb. 17, 2015, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog