One year ago, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit against Colorado in the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting the Court overturn Colorado’s marijuana laws. Yesterday, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.—the highest-ranking legal official in the federal government—took Colorado’s side in the dispute.
When the suit was first brought to the Supreme Court back in December 2015, the court asked for the Solicitor General’s opinion on whether the case should be heard or not. Yesterday, Verrilli finally filed the brief in answer to the Supreme Court, advising them to reject the lawsuit.
According to the brief, “The motion for leave to file a bill of complaint should be denied because this is not an appropriate case for the exercise of this Court’s original jurisdiction. Entertaining the type of dispute at issue here—essentially that one State’s laws make it more likely that third parties will violate federal and state law in another State—would represent a substantial and unwarranted expansion of this Court’s original jurisdiction.”
The brief is saying this lawsuit should not be heard because it isn’t the type of case the Supreme Court ever hears; it would be stepping outside its established jurisdiction.
This is a pretty calculated move by the Department of Justice because it shoots down the lawsuit that would go against the Obama Administration’s orders to let states decide on marijuana, but also does not show any support of legalization, which the federal government clearly doesn’t have as long as it categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug.
Overall, this is good news, as it’s most likely the Supreme Court will take the Solicitor General’s advice and not hear the case. However, it’s not a certain victory—the Court could still decide to hear it, or it could be heard by a lower district court. Also, the reason for the brief’s advisement of dismissal is not based in the validity or legality of individual state marijuana laws, but because of precedent in what kind of cases the Supreme Court usually hears.
Always a slippery one, the federal government has found yet another way to hide behind its logically flawed, politically defensive, incredibly ambiguous stance (or lack thereof) on marijuana legalization. At least they found a way to swing the Court in our favor, though what happens next remains to be seen.