Pubdate: Tue, 22 Mar 2016
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press


DENVER (AP) - Marijuana is a political debate, not a legal one - for now.

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it won't consider a 
lawsuit filed by two other states challenging Colorado's pot law. But 
lawyers say that Nebraska and Oklahoma officials could pursue other 
legal challenges down the road.

For now, the many states considering pot laws this year won't have 
immediate guidance from the nation's high court about whether they're 
free to flout federal drug law by regulating the drug.

Instead, the 26 states and Washington, D.C., that allow marijuana for 
medical or recreational purposes don't have any immediate roadblocks 
on their marijuana laws.

Nebraska's attorney general said Monday that his state would consider 
trying again to challenge Colorado's pot law, just not directly to 
the nation's highest court.

"What it basically tells us is to go forth in the federal district 
court to start off the lawsuit," Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said.

A lawsuit by some Nebraska and Kansas law enforcement officials was 
dismissed last month by a federal court in Denver.

"It doesn't mean that all the legal wrangling is done," said Sam 
Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver who studies drug law.

"It just means that for a case to end up before the Supreme Court 
before we have a new president is extremely unlikely."

Marijuana legalization advocates immediately seized on the Supreme 
Court's announcement as a signal that states are free to legalize 
marijuana if they wish.

"States have every right to regulate the cultivation and sale of 
marijuana, just as Nebraska and Oklahoma have the right to maintain 
their failed prohibition policies," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for 
the Marijuana Policy Project.

"Colorado has done more to control marijuana than just about any 
other state in the nation. It will continue to set an example for 
other states that are considering similar laws in legislatures and at 
the ballot box."

But Colorado officials weren't so sure. Colorado Attorney General 
Cynthia Coffman, a Republican who opposes legal weed, said that while 
Nebraska and Oklahoma chose the wrong legal approach, pot is very 
much a question in need of federal guidance.

"The legal questions surrounding (marijuana) still require stronger 
leadership from Washington," Coffman said in a statement Monday.

There is a pending federal lawsuit challenging Colorado's pot law, 
though the plaintiffs aren't from Nebraska or Oklahoma.

Two southern Colorado residents last year sued a neighboring 
marijuana company, saying the business violates federal drug law and 
should be blocked. The residents are represented by the 
Washington-based Safe Streets Alliance, which seeks to have a federal 
court throw out the state's entire regulated marijuana industry. A 
Denver District Court judge dismissed that lawsuit on Monday, though 
the plaintiffs could still challenge state officials in federal appeals court.

Associated Press Writer Anna Gronewold in Lincoln, Nebraska, 
contributed to this report.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom