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constitutional

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director February 26, 2018

    Marijuana and the LawA federal district court judge in Manhattan today granted the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to challenge the constitutionality of cannabis’ prohibited status under federal law.

    [2/27/18 update: Plaintiffs have stated their intent to appeal the court’s ruling.]

    The 98-page complaint, filed in July 2017 by a legal team that includes New York attorney Michael Hiller, NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy and Empire State NORML Director David Holland, contended that the federal government “does not believe, and upon information and belief never has believed” that cannabis meets the requirements for a Schedule I designation under the Controlled Substances Act. It further argued that current administrative mechanisms in place to allow for the reconsideration of cannabis Schedule I classification are “illusory.” Lawyers for the Justice Department argued for a dismissal of the suit, arguing: “There is no fundamental right to use marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise.”

    Presiding Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein sided with the federal government, opining in a 20-page ruling: “No such fundamental right (to possess or use cannabis) exists. Every court to consider the specific, carefully framed right at issue here has held that there is no substantive due process right to use medical marijuana.” The judge further ruled that plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all of the potential administrative remedies available to them — such as filing an administrative petition to reschedule cannabis with the US Drug Enforcement Administration — and therefore, it was inappropriate for the court to intervene. “There can be no complaint of constitutional error when such a process is designed to provide a safety valve of this kind,” he opined. “Judicial economy is not served through a collateral proceeding of this kind that seeks to undercut the regulatory machinery on the Executive Branch and the process of judicial review in the Court of Appeals.”

    Judge Hellerstein also rejected plaintiffs’ claim that the federal law is unconstitutional because “it was passed with racial animus.” He held that plaintiffs lacked the standing to argue such a claim because they “have failed to demonstrate that a favorable decision is likely to redress plaintiffs’ alleged injuries,” such as a dismissal of their past criminal convictions.

    With regard to the question of whether the plaintiffs legitimately benefited from cannabis as a medicinal agent, the judge argued that the merits of this claim was beyond the scope of the court. “Plaintiffs’ amended complaint, which I must accept as true for the purpose of this motion, claims that the use of medical marijuana has, quite literally, saved their lives,” he wrote. “I highlight plaintiffs’ experience to emphasize that this decision should not be understood as a factual finding that marijuana lacks any medical use in the United States, for the authority to make that determination is vested in the administrative process.” He added, “Even if marijuana has current medical uses, I cannot say that Congress acted irrationally in placing marijuana in Schedule I.”

    Legal counsel for the plaintiffs have yet to publicly announce whether or not they intend to appeal Judge Hellerstein’s ruling.

    A judge for the Federal District Court in Sacramento considered similar arguments in a 2014 legal challenge, also spearheaded by members of the NORML Legal Committee, but ultimately rejected them — ruling that plaintiffs failed to show that Congress acted irrationally when classifying cannabis as a schedule I controlled substance. “At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional,” the judge determined. “But this is not the court and not the time.”

    Text of Judge Hellerstein’s decision in Washington et al. v. Sessions et al is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 5, 2012

    Members of the NORML Legal Committee filed suit yesterday against the State of New Jersey over regulators failure to implement the Compassionate Use of Medical Marijuana Act.

    First signed into law by former Gov. Jon Corzine on January 18, 2010, the law — which establishes the creation of up to six state-licensed ‘alternative treatment centers’ to provide medicinal cannabis to qualified patients — was initially scheduled to take effect in July 2010. Since that time state regulators, at the behest of present Gov. Chris Christie, have unduly delayed the law’s implementation. To date, not a single patient in New Jersey has been afforded legal protections under the Act in the 27 months since the measure was signed into law.

    On Wednesday, April 4, NORML Legal Committee attorneys William H. Buckman of Moorestown and Anne M. Davis of Brick filed a lawsuit on behalf of a New Jersey medical patient who would qualify for cannabis access. The suit also represents one of the few medical doctors who have registered with NJ to recommend medical marijuana. Named in the suit are the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Commissioner Mary O’Dowd and the newly appointed director of the Medicinal Marijuana Program John O’Brien.

    Read the press release below:

    CONSTITUTIONAL LAWSUIT FILED OVER FAILED NJ MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROGRAM

    Trenton: Today a lawsuit was filed against the State of New Jersey over the failure to implement the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Named in the suit are the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Commissioner Mary O’Dowd and the newly appointed director of the Medicinal Marijuana Program John O’Brien.

    Civil rights attorneys William H. Buckman of Moorestown and Anne M. Davis of Brick brought the suit on behalf of a New Jersey medical patient who would qualify for cannabis access. The suit also represents one of the few medical doctors who have registered with NJ to recommend medical marijuana.

    The compassionate use law was passed in January 2010 with a six-month implementation timeline. But since 2010 a series of politically motivated regulatory, legislative and bureaucratic delays have kept the program from operating at all. None of the six approved Alternative Treatment Centers have been fully permitted by DHSS to open.

    “We represent a patient who suffered actual damages as a result of these delays,” said Anne Davis, “He cannot utilize the cannabis because New Jersey’s lack of a working program means he could lose his disability pension if he tested positive for cannabis.”

    Davis continued, “Our neighbors with AIDS, cancer, MS and the worst of medical conditions have testified before the legislature and changed the law. Now, patients and doctors have to go to court to win the rights that they should have already been afforded.”

    The lawsuit gathers more than two years of facts demonstrating that those in charge of the implementation process for New Jersey’s medical marijuana program have been unable or unwilling to put the law into place.

    “Today we are filing suit to require the DHHS to do what every other citizen must do — follow the law,” said William Buckman, “We are also insisting that pursuant to the legislature’s will, sick people have access to medical marijuana without fear of arrest.”