Nebraska and Oklahoma filed suit in the Supreme Court yesterday, arguing that Colorado’s legalized marijuana has crossed into their borders. Given the increased burden on their law-enforcement and judicial systems, their ire is somewhat understandable — but also totally misplaced.
The suit should instead be filed against the Obama administration for failure to enforce federal law.
Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is “Schedule One” substance, classified alongside hard-core drugs like heroin and ecstasy. While it’s fair to question whether such categorization is reasonable, the rules on the books remain the same.
Nevertheless, President Obama publicly stated that enforcement of recreational marijuana use is not “a top priority” because “we’ve got bigger fish to fry.” A Justice Department memo issued in August 2013 echoes this sentiment, directing states that have legalized marijuana to “implement strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health, and other law-enforcement needs.”
As the lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma notes, there’s substantial logic behind considering marijuana a federal-level issue, instead of deferring the decision to states: The federal government already oversees the regulation of drugs, and inter-state commerce concerns remain, too.
By shirking the decision to the state level, the Obama administration has created a rule-of-law dilemma. Expect more similar conflicts until federal law and state-level realities match.
Even so, the same states complaining about how Coloradoan weed is unduly straining their police and courts may want to consider the costs of over-criminalization.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.