(Brennan Linsley, Associated Press file)

U.S. Supreme Court asks fed lawyer for opinion on Colorado pot lawsuit

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court is asking advice from a top government lawyer on what to do about state weed policy and a smoldering fight between Colorado and two nearby states.

Justices on the court made the request Monday as part of their official order list. They want want U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. to add his thoughts to a complaint filed by Oklahoma and Nebraska in December against Colorado, which is one of just a few states to allow for the broad sale of marijuana.

How Verrilli responds could influence whether the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, though it’s a matter of debate about how much weight the justices put on the opinion of the solicter general, who represents the federal government before the high court.

Regardless, the next moves by the Supreme Court could have a major impact on recent state efforts to relax marjuana laws. A response by Verrilli is expected later this year.

The latest fight began five months ago when Nebraska and Oklahoma challenged Colorado’s commercialization of marijuana — citing enforcement problems because of the drug’s increased accessibility in the region.

A key question the states raised was the responsibility of the federal government — a point underscored Monday by the office of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

“Attorney General Pruitt anxiously awaits an explanation from the Obama administration as to its continued refusal to enforce federal law, specifically the Controlled Substances Act,” said Aaron Cooper, a Pruitt spokesman, in a statement.

But Colorado says it has the prerogative and that it’s also ready to hear from Verrilli .

“As we argued in our brief, the federal government’s decision to defer to Colorado’s regulation of marijuana is at the heart of this case,” said Cynthia Coffman, Colorado’s attorney general in a statement.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has asked the United States to explain its position on this litigation, especially now that (U.S.) Attorney General (Loretta) Lynch has assumed office,” she added.

Colorado is not alone in the legal fight. Two pot-friendly states, Oregon and Washington, joined the fray a few weeks ago and filed a brief in March in support of the state’s position.

One pot advocate saw the development as a mixed bag.

“On the one hand this is concerning since it could be a sign that the Court is taking the case more seriously than I think is actually merited,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, in a statement.

“On the other hand, this could be a good opportunity for the Obama administration to further and more clearly articulate the president’s position that states should be able to legalize marijuana if that’s what their voters want,” he added.

Mark K. Matthews: 202-662-8907, mmatthews@denverpost.com or twitter.com/mkmatthews

This story was first published on The Spot blog