Colorado’s Drug Laws Under Attack

By now most everybody is familiar with Colorado’s lenient marijuana laws (or rather, Colorado’s abolition of marijuana restrictions). Whether we agree with their position or not, we generally understand that states can make their own laws and are free to govern themselves. But there are limitations on that idea, as a lawsuit against the State of Colorado is demonstrating.

When States Can Regulate

First, it is important to remember that states do not have the ability to make whatever laws they want about just anything. Generally, states do have the ability to create and enforce their own criminal laws. States cannot make laws that impede upon powers of the federal government.

Anything that affects “interstate commerce” cannot be regulated by states, but must be regulated by the federal government. For example, a state could not declare that their residents do not have to pay federal income tax, or that their residents can become citizens of their state by a method other than federal immigration procedures.

Colorado Gets Sued by Neighboring States

But Colorado’s marijuana laws are running into trouble because Colorado is being sued by its neighboring states, Oklahoma and Nebraska. They contend that because of Colorado’s lax laws, residents of Oklahoma and Nebraska are going into Colorado, obtaining marijuana, and bringing it into their states. As such, they contend that Colorado’s laws are affecting their crime rate and increasing marijuana crimes.

They do not contend that Colorado has authorized such practices. The violations—getting marijuana in Colorado and transporting it over state lines—are the actions of private citizens, actions that are not authorized by Colorado law. Thus, the case against Colorado may not have merit. Colorado argues the lawsuit is an impermissible attempt by neighboring states to regulate Colorado’s laws.

Nonetheless, those states have now asked the United States Supreme Court to block Colorado’s laws.

Federal Government Gets Involved

The Supreme Court has in turn asked the federal government to weigh in and give its opinion on the problem. Officially, the Obama administration has opposed legalization of marijuana, but has not taken any actions against states to prohibit them from legalizing it. In this case, the government has taken the position that the dispute between the states is not something the supreme Court should hear.

The court brief filed by the administration takes the position that ruling on the case would impermissibly expand the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. While the Court has ruled on state disputes against each other, it has traditionally not ruled on a case like this, where it is not a state’s actions being contested, but the activities by a state’s residents. Thus, the government has not approved or opposed the drug laws themselves, only the Court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.

For legalization of marijuana proponents, the case looks like it will be won by Colorado, and Colorado’s drug laws will be permitted to stand.

If you are arrested or charged with a drug crime, make sure you understand your rights and get a strong defense. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.