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Federal Lawsuit Against Sessions and DEA Says MMJ’s Schedule I Status Is Unconstitutional and Racist

Photo by Nico Escondido

An 11-year-old girl who suffers from epileptic seizures, former New York Jets player Marvin Washington and an Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder are among five plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this week against the federal government.

The lawsuit seeks the de-classification of marijuana as a dangerous drug and challenges the constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The 89-page complaint, filed in the New York district court, claims that the federal government does not now, nor could ever possibly have believed that cannabis met or meets the DEA’s Schedule I requirements: “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The CSA’s Schedule I classification of cannabis—in the same category as heroin, LSD and mescaline—is so “irrational” that it violates the U.S. Constitution, the plaintiffs claim.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys David Holland, former chief legal counsel for High Times, Joseph Bondy and lead attorney Michael Hiller, who have teamed up to take on “beleaguered” Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the DEA’s acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg, who are named as defendants.

The plaintiffs contend that the CSA was enacted and enforced in a discriminatory manner and targeted people of color, which has resulted in them being prevented from participating in the legal cannabis industry.

For those who don’t remember how or why the Nixon Administration pushed the CSA through Congress, this is what Nixon’s top adviser John Ehrlichman said in 1994: “The Nixon White House had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. 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.”

This blatant racism continues today; African Americans are still disproportionately arrested and incarcerated, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Asked if a lot has changed since Nixon’s racist regime, David Holland told High Times that things were moving in a positive direction, until the recent Trump administration took over the White House.

“Under the Obama administration, comprehensive efforts were being made to harmonize the differences between states with legalized cannabis and the federal government,” said Holland, executive and legal director of the Empire State NORML chapter. “But now, Sessions seems intent on rolling back that harmony and unleashing the harsh consequences that come with the CSA.”

Holland, a member of the New York Cannabis Bar Association, which is not part of this lawsuit but enthusiastically supports it, likened victims of the War on Drugs to other victims and refugees of today’s many wars.

“You see children affected by diseases having to leave their home states, like refugees, because they have no access to medical marijuana,” said Holland.

One such child, among many, who has found herself in this situation, is 11-year-old plaintiff, Alexis Bortell, a self-proclaimed medical marijuana advocate. Alexis was born and raised in North Texas before moving to Colorado to gain legal access to medical marijuana to treat her intractable epileptic seizures.

Alexis told her 22,000-plus fans on her Facebook page that since starting medical cannabis treatment in Colorado, she has gone over 800 days without a seizure.

“Most Texas legislators don’t seem to care enough to fight for patients, so I will do it,” Bortell said. “I am only asking to be treated like everyone else, and no one is listening to patients like me. Maybe now they will.”

Alexis, and millions of others who need MMJ for their very existence, are hoping this lawsuit will result in the perfectly reasonable reclassification of cannabis as a medicine.

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