I presume others have seen the WSJ editorial regarding the recent suit by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado’s legalization of marijuana. This led me to read a copy of the states’ brief seeking leave to file the case in the Supreme Court. (The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over disputes between states, but the complaining states have to establish that they’re entitled to jump over the lower courts). To summarize the states’ argument:
- The Controlled Substances Act (the CSA), a federal law, makes it a criminal offense to manufacture, distribute, or possess a schedule I controlled substance, which includes marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinols;
- Colorado’s constitution and laws have established a regulated industry for the manufacture and distribution of pot;
- The Obama Administration has elected not to enforce the CSA in Colorado or other states that have legalized pot;
- Nebraska and Oklahoma still prohibit pot, and the availability of pot in Colorado has made it more difficult and expensive for them to enforce their bans.
- The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution provides that “the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme Law of the Land …, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
- Under the Supremacy Clause, Colorado should be enjoined from implementing the provisions of its constitution that would legalize and regulate the manufacture and sale of pot.
The editorial concludes:
When federal power has been legitimately invoked, states may not go rogue. When they do, sister states that can demonstrate concrete injury are entitled to obtain a court declaration that state laws in conflict with federal law are unconstitutional. Normally such lawsuits wouldn’t be necessary because the federal government would enforce its superior law against rogue states. But these aren’t ordinary constitutional times, and it isn’t “fair-weather federalism” to defend these core constitutional principles.
I’d be happy to debate the merits of the suit in the comments, but this strikes me as a good example of how the failure to respect one part of the Constitution results in subversion of other parts. It’s bad precedent, which may be used to further undermine the Constitution.
Of course, the systemic refusal to enforce the CSA in Colorado is another example of the President’s abrogation of his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws of the United States, just like his immigration and Obamacare diktats. But Congress is also complicit insofar as they’ve sat back and allowed their laws to be violated with impunity without having to cast a vote. A Congressman can have it both ways: telling pro-legalization constituents that states are free to legalize pot and telling anti-legalization constituents that it is the President’s fault for not enforcing the law.
This creates a wonderful daisy chain: Congress blames the President for not enforcing the CSA; the President blames the states for making it too difficult to enforce the CSA by legalizing pot; and the states justify legalization because Congress won’t amend the CSA.
So now, two states are trying to undo the de facto legalization of pot by asking the Supreme Court to strike down another state’s laws. Essentially, Nebraska and Oklahoma are asking the Court to force another state to ban a substance in order to reduce the costs of implementing their own bans. This should be antithetical to federalism. Imagine, for example, a state suing to force a neighboring state to ban alcohol, tobacco, sugary soft drinks, eggs from caged hens or ammo magazines over a certain size, just to facilitate the complaining state’s prohibitions.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s neighbors aren’t seeking to have the President enforce the CSA; instead, they are asking the Court to strike down provisions of another state’s constitution, to decree what laws the people of Colorado may adopt. If they prevail, it will be precedent for further federal intrusion into the sovereignty of states, assuming there is anything left for them to intrude upon.