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Plaintiffs Challenging Constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act In Federal Court


August 18, 2017

Challenge To Constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act

A former NFL player, two children, and an Iraq War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, all of whom are medical marijuana patients, together with a social justice nonprofit organization recently filed a federal lawsuit asserting that marijuana’s status as a “Schedule I” narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution. The defendants in the case are Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting DEA Administrator Charles Rosenberg, the U.S. Justice Department, the DEA and the federal government.

Federal Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of Controlled Substances Act

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

History of Marijuana CSA Classification

The landmark lawsuit alleges that the federal government’s classification of marijuana was never supported by strong scientific/medical evidence. To be classified under Schedule I, a drug: (i) must have a high potential for abuse; (ii) must have absolutely no medical use in treatment; and (iii) cannot be used or tested safely, even under strict medical supervision. 

As highlighted in the suit, a government commission convened in the 1970s under President Richard Nixon recommended that marijuana use should not be criminal or subject someone to an indictment based on its findings that it posed very little risk to the public. “Looking only at the effects on the individual, there, is little-proven danger of physical or psychological harm from the experimental or intermittent use of the natural preparations of cannabis,” the report stated. Nonetheless, President Nixon adopted his own approach, declaring all drug abuse as “public enemy number one in the United States.”

According to the complaint, “The Nixon Administration ushered the CSA through Congress and insisted that cannabis be included on Schedule I so that African Americans and war protesters could be raided, prosecuted and incarcerated without identifying the actual and unconstitutional basis for the government’s actions.”

Plaintiffs Assail Marijuana Classification  

The lawsuit argues that classifying marijuana as a Class I drug is even more “irrational” today. “Indeed, the Federal Government has admitted repeatedly in writing and implemented national policy reflecting that Cannabis does in fact, have medical uses and can be used and tested safely under medical supervision,” the complaint states. “On that basis, the federal government has exploited cannabis economically for more than a decade by securing a medical cannabis patent and entering into license agreements with medical licensees.”

The suit further contends that the federal government’s refusal to revisit the classification is harming medical marijuana patients and businesses seeking to serve them. One of the plaintiffs is former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Marvin Washington. He is challenging the CSA because it prevents him from obtaining grants under the Federal Minority Business Enterprise program  to start a medical marijuana company. Other plaintiffs who are medical marijuana patients maintain that federal criminalization prohibits them from traveling freely by airplane or to states where medical cannabis is illegal, and the Cannabis Cultural Association argues that CSA was enacted and continues to be enforced in a discriminatory manner and prevents minorities from participating in the legal cannabis industry.

If the plaintiffs prevail, the decision would not repeal the CSA but would result in a permanent injunction against enforcement of the CSA with respect to marijuana. The case is venued in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Docket No. 1:17-cv-05625. Medical marijuana patients and cannabis industry members should stay apprised of related developments.

This article is a part of a series pertaining to cannabis legalization in New Jersey and the United States at large. Prior articles in this series are below:

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Dan McKillop, at 201-806-3364.

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