Marijuana Business News

Lawsuit Argues That Feds’ Cannabis Ban Violates Our Constitutional Rights


A diverse group of cannabis patients and activists is seeking to end the plant’s inclusion in the United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA), calling it unconstitutional; if they succeed, the lawsuit could end prohibition without Congress’ help.

Plaintiffs in the federal case of Washington, v. Sessions, provided oral arguments in response to the federal government’s motion to dismiss their lawsuit, which challenges the constitutionality of cannabis’ classification under the CSA.

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Originally filed last July, the lawsuit argues that cannabis’ controlled status violates plaintiffs’ constitutional rights as established by the 1st, 5th, 9th, 10th and 14th amendments, pertaining — among other things — to their fundamental rights to travel, engage in commerce, and enjoy equal protection under federal law.

Plaintiffs include retired NFL player and Super Bowl champ Marvin Washington, Iraq War veteran Jose Belen, 12-year-old medical patient Alexis Bortell, seven-year-old patient Jagger Cotte, and the New York-based Cannabis Cultural Association, which promotes inclusion and leadership for people of color and other marginalized groups within the cannabis industry.

On Wednesday, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York heard oral arguments from plaintiffs and reserved his decision rather than ruling from the bench. He also acknowledged cannabis’ medicinal value before the court. A decision on which if any of the plaintiffs’ claims will be dismissed is expected within the next few weeks.

In a statement following the hearing, plaintiff’s lead attorney Michael S. Hiller, of Hiller PC, thanked Judge Hellerstein for his work in this case and emphasized that plaintiffs and their supporters are determined to pursue this legal fight. “We’ve seen civil rights trampled on before, but we have also seen everyday Americans and leaders rise to the occasion and have our judicial branch recognize when an interpretation of the law is obviously tragically flawed and wrong,” he commented.

“The stated basis for the Controlled Substances Act was to help Americans’ lives,” Hiller continued. “However, today, the federal government came to court to preserve the right to put Americans in jail, who use cannabis — even when it used as an alternative medicinal treatment to addictive opioids and powerful prescription drugs. Tragically, what the federal government has done is taken the Controlled Substances Act and turned it on its head.”

Nelson Guerrero, co-founder of Cannabis Cultural Association, also commented, “This is not just about cannabis, it’s a human rights issue. The federal government argued to keep the right to unequally prosecute Americans of color for cannabis, even though they use cannabis at the same rates of white people.”

Guerrero noted, “Moving this case forward could mean the de-scheduling of cannabis, ultimately starting the end of global cannabis prohibition in its birthplace: America.”

If Judge Hellerstein ultimately rejects the government’s motion to dismiss in at least some of the plaintiffs’ cases, as advocates expect, the trial would likely begin this summer. If the judge grants the government’s motion in all cases, plaintiffs and their attorneys plan to appeal in the same time frame.

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