Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman speaks at a news conference discussing the indictment of 32 people accused of marijuana trafficking on March 26, 2015, in Denver. Behind Coffman are Denver Police Chief Robert White, left, and Kevin Merrill, assistant special agent in charge for the Denver field division of the DEA . (Brennan Linsley, The Associated Press)

Colorado AG unimpressed with brief, expects SCOTUS decision in January

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman is unimpressed with the U.S. Solicitor General’s recent brief urging the Supreme Court to not hear neighboring states’ challenge to Colorado’s recreational marijuana laws.

In a statement released to The Cannabist on Thursday, Coffman outlines what she hoped to see in the top government lawyer’s response to the Supreme Court — “a more definitive statement of the federal government’s marijuana policy.” But ultimately the Colorado AG referenced the Solicitor General’s filing — which one drug law expert called “great news for Colorado” — as “an important procedural step.”

Coffman also said she expects the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on hearing Nebraska and Oklahoma’s lawsuit against Colorado in January.

“When the Supreme Court ordered the United States Solicitor General to file a brief in this case, many of us were hoping to get a more definitive statement of the federal government’s marijuana policy,” Coffman wrote in the statement. “Instead, the Department of Justice missed a prime opportunity to provide insights into their permissive approach to marijuana. Their brief reiterates what the states have long suspected — the federal government would prefer to stay out of this lawsuit entirely, despite the reality that federal law and policy are at the heart of the parties’ legal concerns.

“Nonetheless, yesterday’s filing was an important procedural step. Now that the federal government has formally stated its position on the lawsuit, we expect the Supreme Court to decide in January whether it will allow this case to go forward. On behalf of the State of Colorado, whose interests I represent, I continue to be concerned about public safety issues surrounding legalized marijuana and the risks it poses. But, I also continue to believe that this lawsuit is without legal basis and is not the way to fix America’s broken drug policy.”

Drug law expert Sam Kamin called the Solicitor General’s brief “great news for Colorado” on Wednesday, and he seemed somewhat surprised at Coffman’s response on Thursday.

“I think she’s underselling how good it was for the state,” said Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver. “If the Supreme Court does decide to hear the case, there is a lot in the Solicitor General’s brief that Colorado could cut and paste into its own brief. There’s very little that Oklahoma and Nebraska could.”

In December 2014, Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the lawsuit directly with the nation’s highest court asking to strike down Colorado’s history-making marijuana laws. In May, the Supreme Court asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. for his opinion on the matter. On Wednesday, Verrilli’s brief took sides with Colorado and urged the Supreme Court to not hear the case presented by Nebraska and Oklahoma.