Lawsuits Challenge Feds on Cannabis

A lawsuit that could have had a potential far-reaching impact on federal cannabis enforcement has been dismissed by a federal judge. The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Manhattan, sought an injunction to stop the federal government from enforcing cannabis’ Schedule I status, naming Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department and the DEA as defendants. Serving as plaintiffs in the case were a handful of medical cannabis patients, including a former NFL player, a veteran of the war in Iraq and 12-year-old Alexis Bortell, who moved to Colorado in order to access life-saving cannabis medicine. Bortell was profiled by THC in April of last year, prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
Central to that lawsuit was the argument that cannabis’ status as a Schedule I controlled substance, designating it as without medical application and having a high risk of abuse, defies the current medical understanding of the plant and was originally motivated by political rather than factual reasoning. During opening arguments on February 14, government attorneys argued that there exists a legal procedure to petition the DEA for rescheduling substances under the CSA, and that this lawsuit represents a violation of this procedure. Judge Alvin K. Hillerstein sided with federal attorneys, ruling that the plaintiffs had not exhausted the available avenues to have cannabis rescheduled prior to filing the lawsuit. Previous attempts at petitioning the DEA for a rescheduling made by other cannabis supporters have all failed.
The plaintiffs are planning to appeal the decision, according to a statement from attorney Michael Hiller.
In a turn of coincidence, on February 15 in San Francisco, oral arguments were made in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as part of another lawsuit of potential significance to cannabis users across the country. The lawsuit is challenging a 2016 decision by the Drug Enforcement Administration to create a controlled substances code for “Marihuana Extract”, a Schedule I controlled substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act. The DEA decision described any “extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis” under this new categorization, effectively shaded in the legal gray area of hemp-derived CBD extracts being sold nation wide.
The oral arguments earlier this month gave plaintiff attorney Robert Hoban his first opportunity to directly argue the case, brought on behalf of the Hemp Industries Association and a hemp-CBD business, before federal judges, stressing that the 2014 Farm Bill had allowed federally legal hemp crops and therefore federally legal hemp extracts.
A group of 28 Congress members, consisting of 22 Democrats and eight Republicans, filed a brief in support of the HIA’s position earlier this year.
The 9th Circuit Court will now deliberate based on the arguments and fillings made, setting the stage for a monumental decision that could affect the legality of CBD products already being sold nationwide.
Both of these lawsuits potentially represent watershed moments in national cannabis policy. Stay tuned to THC for future updates.

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