The U.S. Supreme Court is set to discuss a case with potentially devastating implications for marijuana legalization.
On Friday, the Court has announced, the justices will weigh whether to take up a lawsuit that Nebraska and Oklahoma filed against Colorado over its legal cannabis market.
The support of four justices is needed for the case to move forward. While it is unknown where the current members of the Court will come down on granting review, it has been widely speculated that the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia likely leaves the plaintiffs with one fewer vote than they otherwise would have had.
In the lawsuit, which was initially filed in December 2014, the attorneys general of Nebraska and Oklahoma compare marijuana coming over their borders from neighboring Colorado to pollution. They say that as a result, their law enforcement agencies, courts and jails are being unduly overburdened.
If the Court agrees to hear the case on Friday, it will mark the beginning of a potentially years-long process. Because the suit was filed directly at the Supreme Court instead of working its way through lower courts first, the next step will likely be for the justices to appoint a “special master,” who would perform the role of a trial court by establishing a factual record and gathering evidence. He or she would then make a recommendation on a ruling for the Court.
If the plaintiffs ultimately prevail against Colorado, only the state’s regulatory system for marijuana production and sales could be struck down, leaving possession and personal cultivation legal but unregulated, an outcome that advocates say could leave Nebraska and Oklahoma in an even worse position than they started with.
The case was previously scheduled to be considered during the Court’s January 22 and February 19 conferences. It is unclear whether the justices got around to discussing the case at all at the former meeting, and the latter was canceled due to memorial services for Justice Scalia.
The Obama administration, through the U.S. solicitor general, has urged the Court to reject the case, as have officials from Oregon and Washington State, which also have legal marijuana laws and could be affected by a ruling against Colorado.