Yesterday was a truly historic day, with a federal judge presiding over a court battle in which a coalition of plaintiffs sued the United States government over cannabis’ current classification as a Schedule I substance. The plaintiffs included:
- Army veteran Jose Belen
- Former NFL player Marvin Washington
- The Cannabis Cultural Association
- Twelve-year-old medical cannabis patient Alexis Bortell
- 7-year-old medical cannabis patient Jagger Cotte
The hearing yesterday was fairly brief by litigation standards, yet the short proceeding was not without its major moments. The attorney for the federal government argued that cannabis has no medical value, which the federal judge (Alvin Hellerstein) took issue with. Per excerpts from an article posted by NY Daily News:
Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Dolinger, who argued for Hellerstein to toss the suit, said there was no accepted medical use for marijuana in the United States.
“How can you say that? … ‘There is no currently accepted medical use in the United States,’” Hellerstein asked. “Your argument doesn’t hold.”
At one point, Hellerstein also said to the five plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Hiller: “Your clients are living proof of the medical effectiveness of marijuana.”
“How could anyone say your clients’ lives have not been saved by marijuana?” Hellerstein also remarked. “You can’t.”
However, just because the federal judge sympathized with the plaintiffs does not mean that he will rule in their favor. A federal judge recognizing cannabis’ medical benefits is welcomed, but it is not the first time that the federal government has recognized that cannabis does indeed possess medical benefits (which of course is blatant hypocrisy).
The federal government owns a medical cannabis patent and has since 2003. The federal government not only cultivates medical cannabis at the University of Mississippi (and has been for decades), it also distributes some of the cannabis it grows to no less than four medical cannabis patients.
What the case appears to ultimately hinge on is whether or not the federal court system is the appropriate route for rescheduling/descheduling cannabis, which was touched on by the federal judge during the hearing yesterday. Per the Associated Press:
But Hellerstein appeared to take the government’s argument that the plaintiffs should petition the DEA seriously.
“When agencies are set up to do the very thing that you want me to do, the right thing to do is defer to the agency,” he said.
If that ends up being the argument that the federal judge decides to hang his hat on, it would unfortunately doom the descheduling effort by the plaintiffs. The DEA has been petitioned multiple times to reschedule/deschedule cannabis, and every time it has denied the petitions. To add insult to injury, the DEA has historically dragged their feet on their decision to deny, having taken 16 years to issue a final decision to the first marijuana rescheduling petition, five years for the second, and nine years for the third.
The most recent denial by the DEA was in 2016. A recent denial which built on multiple previous denials is not exactly a promising track record. If the judge decides that the plaintiffs need to go the DEA route, it is basically the deathblow to the effort. Regardless of how the federal judge decides the case, which could take awhile, the effort on the part of the plaintiffs is extremely inspiring and their courage is something that should be celebrated. A huge hat tip to all involved!