The highest court in Oklahoma is asking proponents of a medical marijuana initiative expected to appear on the state’s 2018 ballot whether the whole thing is a futile exercise because of federal prohibition.
“The parties are directed to file briefs in this matter addressing the following issue,” Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas Combs wrote in a surprise one-page order filed this week. “Whether this proposed Initiative Petition is void on its face in relation to federal law?”
The filing is part of a case in which the medical cannabis measure’s proponents sued state Attorney General Scott Pruitt over the proposed ballot title his office drafted.
Facebook post that the development “in no way affects our ballot worthiness.”
“While the court has asked for some unusual information, we believe the Court will act in accordance with federal guidance and already established state laws and interactions,” he said.
Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia already have comprehensive medical marijuana laws on the books, and several others have enacted more limited programs allowing certain patients to use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts.
While all state-legal marijuana use and sales are technically illegal under federal law, it is well-established Constitutional doctrine that the federal government cannot force state officials to enforce its national laws. A dicier question that hasn’t been fully addressed by courts, however, concerns whether the feds should be able to stop state officials from granting licenses for federally-illegal activity or receiving tax revenue generated by it.
The Obama administration, in its second term, has taken a largely hands-off approach to local marijuana laws, allowing states to implement their own policies mostly without federal interference. But some advocates are concerned that could change under the new administration that will take power in January.
Pruitt himself, for example, who has been tapped by Trump as the next administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, previously sued neighboring Colorado over its legal marijuana law. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court wants Pruitt to file his response to the question of whether the state has the ability to legalize medical marijuana under federal law within 30 days, after which time the measure’s proponents will have 20 days to respond.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.
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