Last year, 5 plaintiffs got together to file a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Drug Enforcement Administration for classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. The lawsuit aims to push for the rescheduling or descheduling of the plant based on the unjust and erroneous nature of its classification and the harm that does the public. According to the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs, such as heroin and LSD, are considered to be substances that have a high risk for abuse, contain no medicinal benefits and are unsafe to test on humans. At this point in time, 29 states have legalized the plant for medical use and 8 states have legalized it for recreational use.
Who Are the Plaintiffs?
The plaintiffs, who vary in age and medical history, claim that the plant has had an extraordinary medicinal benefit on their lives and health. These include army veteran Jose Belan, who suffers with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the Iraq war as well as ex-NFL player Marvin Washington, Alexis Bortell, who is a 12-year-old who suffers from epilepsy, Jagger Cotte, a 7-year-old with a neurological disorder called Leigh’s syndrome, and the nonprofit organization called the Cannabis Cultural Association, who work to help minorities benefit from the cannabis industry in states where the plant has been legalized.
Basis for the Lawsuit
The lawsuit claims that marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug, not due to health or scientific reasons but rather for political purposes. It states that this decision is dangerous, irrational and unconstitutional. The lawsuit refers to a statement made by President Richard Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, in a 2016 Harper’s Magazine story, saying; “We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.”
Sympathy for the Plaintiffs
While U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein told the plaintiffs this was grounds for their case, he also sympathized with them. According to The Cannabist, the judge asked the plaintiff’s lead attorney Michael Hiller, “How could anyone say that your clients’ lives have not been saved by marijuana?” While this level of empathy for the plaintiffs is present, he stated that he believed plaintiffs should file a petition with the DEA, rather than with the courts, to change the classification. To this, the plaintiffs’ attorneys answered that the average administrative time for such a petition is 9 years.
As yet, the DEA has not approved any government sanctioned testing on marijuana. The Department of Justice has not approved any research as of yet. This means that despite the amount of evidence that exists supporting the medicinal benefits of marijuana, there is no official evidence supporting its removal from the Schedule I status. The latest polls indicate that 83 percent of the country are now in favor of legalizing the plant for medicinal use, yet all federal progress on marijuana reform has so far been blocked. As the trial continues, perhaps more light will be shined on this complex issue.