Ah, the life of a twelve-year-old: go to school, hang out with friends, frequent the mall, and sue the Attorney General of the United States. At least that’s what one twelve-year-old did (along with a diverse group of other plaintiffs). But, unfortunately, she fell short of victory.
The Lawsuit: Jeff Sessions Versus Everyone Else
The lawsuit pitted Jeff Sessions against the likes of five plaintiffs, including the child mentioned above and Marvin Washington, a former NFL player. They were suing based on the grounds that marijuana remains in the Schedule 1 category, a placement that labels it as dangerous as LSD and heroin, insinuates that it has no medicinal value, and makes studying it – and often obtaining it – a headache for researchers.
Of course, the lawyers for the defense (which included Sessions and the Drug Enforcement Agency) argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed. They cited precedents where prohibition laws were upheld under similar circumstances and they also stated that none of the plaintiffs had petitioned the DEA to change its classification. Citing a “failure to meet exhaustion of remedies” the defense argued that the lawsuit was invalid and unnecessary.
In response, the lawyers working for the plaintiffs argued that petitioning the DEA was a long and drawn-out process, a process that could take as long as a decade to go anywhere. They also argued that the DEA’s prohibition had racist, political, and unconstitutional undertones.
The plaintiffs were involved in the lawsuit for a variety of reasons. Some couldn’t take advantage of business programs because they used marijuana, others couldn’t get insurance to cover their medicine. Some couldn’t take advantage of benefits or travel to certain states because of the need to carry weed on their person.
The plaintiffs also represent people with stress disorders as well as those who uprooted their lives and moved to Colorado to gain access to pot.
The judge was sympathetic to the plaintiff’s cause and seemed to support marijuana (or at least questioned the classification of pot based on DEA’s “science”). The pro-pot crowd backed them too. Sessions wasn’t physically at the hearing, but supporters of the plaintiffs came from all over the United States.
That wasn’t enough, though, and he ultimately dismissed the lawsuit. The argument that the plaintiffs needed to go through the petition process was the deciding factor. Had the lawsuit gone through, the DEA, Department of Justice, and all federal agencies would not have been allowed to enforce the Controlled Substance Act (at least not as it pertained to marijuana; they could still bust people for other drugs).
The entire lawsuit can be found here.
But it’s Not all Bad News
The judge who dismissed the case, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, did empathize with the struggle. Hellerstein went out of his way to “emphasize that this decision is not on the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims.” Yes, it’s a little bit of the whole “I love you, but I’m not in love with you” but at least he didn’t dismiss the case and cast the cause aside as ridiculous or frivolous. Rather, the judge sided with what’s on the books: the DEA has say in their scheduling and going right to Sessions (even if it included the DEA) was putting the cannabis cart before the horse.
But, while that’s how it’s always been, people are arguing that that is not how it should remain. And, of course, they’re correct: cannabis requires a progressive state of mind. If we are to change the laws surrounding it, we must abandon the archaic rules as well.
They also argued that petitioning the DEA is too time-consuming and a luxury many of the plaintiffs don’t have: their bodies won’t wait; they need to use medicinal cannabis now.
Michael Hiller, an attorney for the plaintiffs, argued that “Resigning the plaintiffs to the petitioning administrative process is tantamount to a death sentence for those patients who need cannabis to live. The time has come for the courts to abandon decades-old precedent, notched with obsolete legal technicalities, and catch up with modern science and contemporary principles of constitutional law.”
The Appeals Process
Losing the battle isn’t the same thing as losing the war and this is no more obvious than in appellate courts: Hiller stated that he will indeed file an appeal.
He went on record to say, “This case will continue to move forward. Notwithstanding the outcome today, we remain confident that the final disposition of this case will include a finding that the classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional – freeing millions of Americans to safely treat their conditions with a plant that maintains their health and their lives.” Unfortunately, appealing a court decision takes time and manpower. The federal court appeal process takes, on average, more than a year.
It’s possible the problem will fix itself before then. Reclassifying marijuana will happen – it’s only a matter of time. With more states legalizing not only medically but also recreationally, the administration will, at some point, have to represent the people.
As for Sessions, he still hates marijuana, but he’s moved onto another drug for the time being: opioids. He’s involved the Justice Department in a lawsuit aimed at opioid companies in an attempt to hold someone accountable for the epidemic sweeping our nation. Weird, since he’d previously blamed the opioid crisis on cannabis.
Nonetheless, he stated that the DOJ plans to file a statement of interest, officially supporting the plaintiffs. In the past, a move like this has been reserved for matters that directly impact the Federal government (national security, for instance). But this wasn’t always the case – Obama’s administration engaged in this process to double down on civil rights.
Sessions said at a news conference that the lawsuit is going after “opioid manufacturers and distributors for allegedly using false, deceptive, and unfair marketing of opioid drugs.”
People are dying in record amounts from opioids and it is a national crisis, that makes it easy to see his point. And those are words I’d never thought I’d write.