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LITIGATION

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 2, 2019

    Marijuana Indoor GrowingA federal court has ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to respond to a lawsuit charging the agency with failing to move forward with a 2016 policy to expand the total number of federally licensed marijuana cultivators.

    In August 2016, Drug Enforcement Administration officials adopted a policy “to increase the number of entities registered under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to grow marijuana to supply legitimate researchers in the United States.” To date, however, the agency has neither affirmed or denied any of the 26 applicants that have sought the DEA’s permission for a federal cultivation license.

    (Read NORML’s new op-ed, “Three years ago the DEA said they would remove roadblocks to cannabis research — they still haven’t, here.)

    In June, one of those applicants – the Scottsdale Research Institute – filed a petition in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for a writ of mandamus to order the DEA to comply with its 2016 policy, arguing that the agency has engaged in unreasonable delays. On July 29, the Appellate Court ordered the DEA to provide a written response to the filing within 30 days.

    “While most states recognize that cannabis has medical value, the DEA says otherwise, pointing to the absence of clinical research. But at the same time, government regulations and bureaucracy prevent researchers like SRI from ever doing the clinical research the DEA has overtly demanded,” SRI Principal Investigator Dr. Sue Sisley said. “[This filing is] asking the court for an order compelling the DEA to process our application. We hope that this … encourages the DEA not only to process our application, but to process the applications of others, so that we can all continue to do important research into the safety and efficacy of cannabis for treatment resistant illnesses.”

    Since 1968, the agency has only licensed the University of Mississippi to engage in the growing of cannabis for FDA-approved clinical research. Scientists familiar with the product have consistently said that it is of inferior quality and fails to accurately reflect the types of marijuana varieties commercially available in legal states.

    Additional information regarding the SRI petition is available online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 26, 2019

    Marijuana LawsThe warrantless search of a passenger’s personal property during a traffic stop is unconstitutional, according to a ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court. The judgement overturns a 2007 decision that barred passengers from challenging similar searches by members of law enforcement.

    Justices unanimously opined that the driver’s voluntary consent to allow the police to search her vehicle did not extend to the passenger’s personal belongings. They determined: “In this case, defendant had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his backpack. Defendant asserted a clear possessory interest in his backpack by clutching it in his lap, and the officer believed that the backpack belonged to defendant because of the way defendant was holding it. Therefore, although defendant had no (and claimed no) legitimate expectation of privacy in the interior of the driver’s vehicle, he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his backpack that society is willing to recognize as reasonable.”

    Justices concluded, “A passenger’s personal property is not subsumed by the vehicle that carries it for Fourth Amendment purposes.”

    The defendant’s backpack held marijuana and methamphetamine. He had already served nearly three years in prison for the offenses prior to this week’s verdict.

    The case is People v. Mead. A summary of the opinion is online here.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director May 2, 2018

    A three judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition filed by the Hemp Industries Association challenging the DEA’s authority to establish a new administrative drug code specifically for marijuana extracts. The DEA first announced the proposed rule change in 2011, but did not enact the new policy until January 13, 2017.

    In a decision filed on April 30, the Court rejected petitioners’ arguments – opining the DEA’s classification of marijuana extracts does not conflict with the provisions of either the Agricultural Act of 2014 (aka the ‘Farm Bill) or the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which limits the Justice Department from spending federal dollars to intervene in state-sanctioned activities involving marijuana or industrial hemp. The Court also dismissed petitioners’ argument that the rule substantively amended the federal Controlled Substances Act. Justices opined that such extract products, including those containing primarily CBD, were already classified under federal law as schedule I controlled substances.

    The DEA has long contended that it possesses broad regulatory authority over “all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.,” including “the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.” The agency includes among this definition products containing cannabidiol or any other non-THC cannabinoids derived from the marijuana plant. It further states, “[T]he Agricultural Act of 2014 does not permit entities [who are not registered with the DEA] … to produce non-FDA-approved drug products made from cannabis.”

    Over a dozen states have enacted legislation in recent years exempting certain persons who possess extracts high in cannabinoid from criminal prosecution. Legislation to approve the retail sale of CBD extracts to adults in Kansas is awaiting gubernatorial action. Indiana lawmakers approved a similar law in April. Several pieces of legislation seeking to exclude CBD from the federal definition of marijuana are pending in Congress. In 2015, Nora Volkow, the Director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, publicly acknowledged that CBD is “a safe drug with no addictive effects.”

    Petitioners say that they intend to appeal the ruling.

    The case is Hemp Industries Association et al., v. US Drug Enforcement Administration et al., (No. 17-70162).

  • 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 Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director February 14, 2018

    Today, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government argued to have the case dismissed. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York reserved the decision.

    The lead attorney for the case, Michael Hiller released the following statement:

    First, we would like to thank Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein for taking the time to hear the important oral argument made today. We appreciate the time he took to hear from the plaintiffs we represent —  all whom have heartbreaking stories about how their everyday lives continue to be negatively impacted by the prohibition of cannabis.  

     

    Protecting our American values, way of life and civil and constitutional rights are who we are as Americans. To many, it is obvious, we are living in an era where we must remain vigilant and ask hard questions. If we look back at our collective history, this is not the first time we have seen some in the US government shamefully argue out-dated ideologies under a legal mask that is inevitably on the wrong side of history. We saw this with slavery, segregation, women’s right to vote, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, gay marriage, and sadly, countless other times.  

     

    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.  

     

    The stated basis for the Controlled Substances Act was to help Americans’ lives. 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. Sadly, the government is now using the ‘Act’ to hurt and oppress US citizens, rather to liberate, deliberate and help them treat their illnesses and diseases.  

     

    We firmly believe the federal government is prostituting and perverting the Controlled Substances Act as well as blatantly criminalizing behavior that they themselves are inducing. We look forward to standing on the right side of history and ensuring that cannabis is descheduled once and for all as well as to receiving Judge Hellerstein’s decision, and moving the case forward.

    Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case include Michael Hiller and Lauren Rudick of Hiller, PC, NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy, and Empire State NORML Director David Holland.

    A judge for the Federal District Court in Sacramento heard similar arguments in a 2014 legal challenge, also spearheaded by members of the NORML Legal Committee, but ultimately rejected them – opining: “At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional. But this is not the court and not the time.”

    Plaintiffs in the current lawsuit include a former NFL football player, a disabled military veterans, two children with severe movement disorders, and the non-profit group, the Cannabis Cultural Association. Plaintiffs argue that federal prohibition violates their civil and constitutional liberties, including their right to freely travel within the United States. They also argue that the federal prohibition of cannabis is “grounded in discrimination and [is] applied in a discriminatory manner.”

    Lawyers for the Justice Department argued today for a dismissal of the suit, opining: “There is no fundamental right to use marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise. Because such a right is not ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ or ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history,’ the Court should reject such a claim.”

    The judge asked how anyone could say that the plaintiffs’ lives “have not been saved by marijuana.”

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