The Solicitor General, the top lawyer in the United States, and his team passed down a written recommendation to the Supreme Court that the case against Colorado’s cannabis legalization law be dismissed. The lawsuit, filed by neighboring states Nebraska and Oklahoma in 2014, claimed that Amendment 64 infringes the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause.
Donald B. Verrilli, the Solicitor General, is the third highest ranking official in the Department of Justice, and the lawyer chosen to represent the federal government in front of the Supreme Court. The brief recommending the case against legalization in Colorado not be heard by the Supreme Court was filed on Wednesday December 16.
The brief, which references several previous cases of precedent to backup his decision, explains that this is not the type of case that the Supreme Court should address first. A case such as this should first be heard by a district court.
The brief states:
“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.”
It continues, “The Court’s exercise of original jurisdiction is also unwarranted in this case because the preemption issue could be raised in a district-court action.”
Tom Angell, long time activist and founder of the Marijuana Majority commented,
“This is the right move by the Obama administration. Colorado and a growing number of states have decided to move away from decades of failed prohibition laws, and so far things seem to be working out as planned. Legalization generates tax revenue, creates jobs and takes the market out of the hands of drug cartels and gangs.”
This recommendation by the DOJ will likely impact the Supreme Court’s decision.
The ancillary benefits of legalizing cannabis are continuing to come to fruition in Denver, Colorado.
According to Re/Max real estate agent Kelly Moye, the city usually has 24,000 homes for sale during a normal market. Currently, there are only about 4,000 listings.
The limited inventory has caused a double-digit spike in home values. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index reports that Denver had the second-largest jump in the country with a 10 percent increase in March. The rental and lease side of the business has also picked up; in fact, one real estate agent reports that it is cheaper to buy a house than try to rent.
While there are several factors driving the growth, one explanation is that the marijuana industry has led to a large number of opportunities for employment.
“The pot industry is creating jobs we didn’t have before,”
said Moye, who has been an agent in Denver for more than two decades.
“It’s brand new, it adds a whole new factor to the area; you have real estate needs, housing needs, job needs.”
With so many people flocking to the city, the tech industry in the area has also experienced growth. Berkshire Hathaway Home Services agent J.P. Speers noted that mom-and-pop electricians have grown to become large companies.
Speers has seen both the positive and the negative effects marijuana has had on the housing market. The growth has sparked multiple offers and bidding wars, but has lead to a near unsustainable price escalation.
However, Speers noted that some buyers have hesitations. Many clients will not necessarily admit they have moved to Denver because of the marijuana industry. Further, in one case, Speers had difficulty moving a property because the home’s neighbors were growing a significant amount of cannabis.
People who are in the market for their first home or who need to stick to a budget may also have difficulty. With an influx of first-time buyers and steep prices, there is stiff competition in desired ares.
Moye said that as long as there is no major economic crisis, Denver could see a housing market run for the next five to seven years. Speers speculates that if other states begin to legalize recreational marijuana, it could detract from Denver’s boom.
Photo Credit: Huffington Post
During December of last year, the states of Oklahoma and Nebraska took legal action at the Supreme Court level against Colorado. These states hope to reverse Amendment 64, the law passed by Colorado voters which legalizes marijuana for recreational use and retail sale.
Oklahoma and Nebraska hope that this lawsuit will nullify the 2012 voter initiative, citing that the increased supply of marijuana in Colorado is a “cross-border nuisance.” When Oklahoma and Nebraska filed suit, the states of Oregon and Washington submitted briefs that supported legalization of marijuana, particularly in Colorado.
When states file lawsuits against other states, like in this case, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has jurisdiction. However, SCOTUS rarely holds a trial to evaluate such a case. Instead, it delegates the task to a legal expert. This individual is responsible for researching the case. Once this person has gathered enough information, he or she makes a recommendation to SCOTUS about how to proceed.
The Supreme Court recently asked the Obama administration to give its opinion and reached out to the Justice Department in hopes of finding out its position on the litigation as well. While the Department of Justice will probably not respond for a few months, many are hopeful that SCOTUS will reiterate that marijuana legalization is an issue for the states to deal with, not the federal government.
Experts believe this lawsuit is expected to be dismissed for procedural reasons. It is doubtful that Nebraska and Oklahoma will be allowed to bypass the normal judicial process.
Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas, explained:
“The real lawsuit shouldn’t be filed against Colorado. It ought to be Nebraska and Oklahoma v. Lynch, to force the attorney general to enforce federal law which undoubtedly is supreme over Colorado law.”
When the Supreme Court has evaluated marijuana cases in the past, it has not been promising for marijuana supporters. However, much has transpired since the important case of Gonzales v. Raich. As of right now, SCOTUS’s final ruling is hard to predict.
When Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012, it was expected that criminal charges related to the plant would decrease. However, a recent report by the Drug Policy Alliance shows that the decrease is even more significant than predicted.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Colorado has experienced a 95 percent drop in charges for cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana. There were 38,878 charges in 2010 but only 2,036 charges in 2014.
Possession has historically been the category with the highest number of criminal charges. In 2010, there were 30,428 people charged with possession. In 2012, the year voters approved Amendment 64 effectively legalizing recreational possession and retail sales, there were only 8,928 people charged. That number dropped to just 1,922 in 2014 when retail marijuana dispensaries opened for business. It remains illegal for an adult to be found in possession of more than 1 ounce of marijuana, so anyone with more than that can still be charged.
Charges for distribution and cultivation have been lowered by more than 95 percent from 2010 to 2014. There were only 23 distribution charges and 91 cultivation charges filed in 2014.
Although they have significantly decreased, there are still notable racial disparities when it comes to marijuana arrests in the Centennial State. According to the report by Drug Policy Alliance, this is largely due to the fact that although legalization was enacted, “law enforcement practices that produce racial disparities in such arrests have not changed.”
In 2010, the marijuana possession arrest rate for white people was 335 for every 100,000 people, where as the corresponding number was 851 for every 100,000 black people. Black people make up less than 4 percent of the state’s population, but they make up over 9 percent of the marijuana possession arrests in the state of Colorado.
Additionally, even though the overall number of possession related arrests went down a great deal in 2014, black people are still arrested more than double the amount of white people for possession. They also still comprise more than 9 percent of arrests related to possession.
The state judicial system provided the data here. They compared the number of charges and cases related to marijuana before and after Amendment 64 was passed. These figures were combined with data from the National Incident Based Reporting System that is utilized by law enforcement agencies all over the state of Colorado to report crimes. The report states that the data is not all-inclusive, and leaves out some of the possession cases for Denver due to inconsistencies between criminal codes.
Art Way, Colorado state director for the Drug Policy Alliance pointed out that even though there are still some kinks to work out for the legalization system, Colorado is on the right track.
“It’s heartening to see that tens of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Coloradans have been spared the travesty of getting handcuffed or being charged for small amounts of marijuana[…]By focusing on public health rather than criminalization, Colorado is better positioned to address the potential harms of marijuana use, while diminishing many of the worst aspects of the war on drugs.”
Oklahoma and Nebraska are calling for the United States Supreme Court to overrule Colorado’s voter approved Amendment 64, the initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in the state because they claim legal Colorado cannabis is crossing state lines. The lawsuit was filed Thursday, stating that the legalization amendment infringes the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which establishes federal law as the winner should there ever be a conflict with state law.
Do you want to show your support for Colorado’s right to state legalization? Click here to sign the petition on Chang.org, courtesy of the Marijuana Policy Project. The petition is “calling on Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to withdraw the lawsuit and end their crusade to maintain marijuana prohibition.”
photo credit: Change.org