NEW YORK: The lawsuit filed last July seeking to change the federal government's classification of marijuana from the Schedule I drug-classification will be before a New York district judge Wednesday. The New York Times reported that the defendants in the suit are United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The plaintiffs of the suit include former NFL player Marvin Washington, a 7-year-old with the neurological disorder Leigh's syndrome, a 12-year-old with epilepsy and the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit organization helping minorities succeed in the industry. The lawsuit claims that marijuana has medical benefits and therefore should not be classified as a Schedule I drug. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin and LSD. Another plaintiff in the lawsuit is an Army veteran who served in Iraq. Jose Belen suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Iraq and the 35-year-old said that marijuana is the only medicine that helps him cope. He added that it gives him immediate relief.
Belen says that prescription drugs for PTSD increased his depression and made him suicidal, saying “I went to Iraq to free the oppressed and I view this no different. The oppression is only being done by our own government,” he said. He added that it isn't fair that he is not allowed by federal law to cross state lines to get medical marijuana.
Is Racism a Factor?
The lawsuit also evokes racism as a reason for the federal Schedule I classification of marijuana and heroin, quoting former President Richard Nixon's domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman. The lawsuit claims that Nixon's Administration wanted to target Black people and protesters, citing a magazine article from two years ago.
Ehrlichman told Harper's Magazine in 2016 “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,” said Ehrlichman.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an opponent of legal marijuana and encouraged federal prosecutors to target states with legal marijuana when he rescinded the Cole Memo in January. The Cole Memo was written during the Obama Administration as a guideline that recommended federal prosecutors not interfere in state affairs.
The Hypocrisy of the Federal Government
The lawsuit also points out the hypocrisy of the federal government's involvement with the marijuana industry because of the policy, written by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The policy advises financial institutions on regulations regarding opening accounts for cannabis industry businesses in legal marijuana states.
The suit claims that the federal government jails people in the marijuana industry on one hand while encouraging banks to do business with the industry on the other. The attorney for the lawsuit Michael Hiller said, “They’re attempting to reserve the right to prosecute people for engaging in the very conduct that the federal government has encouraged.”
The complaint also asks why the Department of Health and Human Services obtained a patent on cannabis compounds in 2003 for treating brain damage if the federal government is also claiming that the drug has no medicinal value. Drugs in the Schedule I drug classification are defined as having no medicinal value. The lawsuit also notes that Thomas Jefferson used hemp for migraines and James Madison used hemp simply because he liked it.
Lawyers representing the government in the lawsuit argue that Congress classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. They say that instead of suing, the plaintiffs should try to get the law changed if they disagree with the law. United States District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein is overseeing the case and will make his ruling on a future date.