A new lawsuit was filed against Jeff Sessions and the federal government earlier this year which seeks to force the federal government’s hand on changing cannabis’ classification via litigation.
Cannabis has been classified by the federal government as a Schedule I controlled substance since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act by Congress in 1970 (enacted in 1971).
According to the Drug Enfocement Administration (DEA) a Schedule I controlled substance is one that has ‘no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.’
The DEA has been petitioned in 2001, 2006, 2011 to reschedule/deschedule cannabis’ federal status, but the DEA refused to budge each time.
The DEA also reiterated its stance on cannabis classification in 2016.
Meet the 12-year-old plaintiff
One of the plaintiffs in the case is a 12-year-old medical cannabis patient named Alexis Bortell. Alexis was 11 years old at the time the lawsuit was filed last summer.
Alexis is one of many ‘medical cannabis refugees’ that have moved to states where medical cannabis is legal. She moved from Texas, which does not have a comprehensive medical cannabis program, to Colorado which does.
She suffers from life-threatening epileptic seizures, and the use of cannabis has helped her live a much better life.
One of Alexis’ attorneys, Michael Hiller, describes Alexis as follows, via an article from Westword:
Alexis is “a remarkable child,” Hiller says. “When I first spoke to her, it wasn’t to say, ‘Hi. How are you?’ It was so she could interview me to make sure I was the right lawyer for her. She’s a smart kid and a brave kid who’s not afraid to tell you what she thinks.”
An article from Rolling Stone described Alexis Bortell as being ‘wise and articulate beyond her years,’ and pointed out that Alexis was invited by NORML to their annual Congressional Lobby days event.
She is also a published author, having co-authored a book titled Let’s Talk About Medical Cannabis with her parents Dean and Liza Bortell and sister Avery.
Alexis is a formidable opponent, and a truly inspiring kid that has won the hearts and minds of cannabis supporters nationwide.
Who else is suing Jeff Sessions over cannabis’ Schedule I status?
Alexis Bortell is joined by four other plaintiffs on the lawsuit:
- Marvin Washington – retired NFL player and current cannabis entrepreneur
- Jose Belen – Iraq war veteran (U.S. Army) that suffers from PTSD
- Jagger Cote – 6 year old child that suffers from Leigh’s Disease
- Cannabis Cultural Association – 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports cannabis reform
Each plaintiff has been damaged by cannabis’ federal Schedule I status in their own way.
All plaintiffs are demanding that cannabis’ federal status be changed.
What does the lawsuit against Jeff Sessions actually say?
, with parts of which doubling as a history lesson on cannabis use and policy in America.
Some excerpts from the filing include:
- “Classifying cannabis as a ‘Schedule I drug’ is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.”
- “Without her use of whole-plant medical cannabis, Alexis would likely have no quality of life, and instead be resigned to spending her days at home inside or worse, in a hospital bed, as medical care-givers surround her with offers of palliative care which fail to provide any actual palliative relief. In addition, Alexis would be subjected to traditional forms of treatment which, aside from being ineffectual, threaten her with serious and life-altering side effects, including infertility.”
- “Indeed, the Federal Government has admitted repeatedly in writing and implemented national policy reflecting that Cannabis does in fact, have medical uses and can be used and tested safely under medical supervision. On that basis, the federal government has exploited cannabis economically for more than a decade by securing a medical cannabis patent and entering into license agreements with medical licensees.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaration that cannabis’ current federal classification is unconstitutional.
If the lawsuit is successful it would not nullify the law, but would instead put a permanent injunction in place against enforcement of current law as it pertains to cannabis.
Why is Jeff Sessions a defendant in the case?
Jeff Sessions is not the only defendant in the case. The lawsuit also lists former acting Director of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg as a defendant, in addition to the DEA and U.S. Department of Justice.
Both Jeff Sessions and Chuck Rosenberg were listed as being defendants in their ‘official capacities’ as the heads of the two federal agencies.
Chuck Rosenberg has since stepped down from his position at the DEA, and has been replaced by Robert Patterson who by default becomes a defendant in the case.
The same would be true if Jeff Sessions were to resign as the United States Attorney General, or be replaced by president Trump.
Both Sessions and Patterson have been outspoken cannabis reform opponents for a long time, so they receive a lot of headlines as defendants, but it’s their positions in federal agencies that are truly the targets of the lawsuits.
What are the chances of the lawsuit being successful?
The five attorneys in the case, who are all members of the New York State Bar Association, are volunteering to represent the plaintiffs. Having passionate representation is vital a successful lawsuit, and that’s clearly the case.
The lawsuit has the following factors working in its favor:
- The federal government owns a patent for cannabis’ medical benefits
- The federal government cultivates cannabis for medical research purposes at the University of Mississippi
- The federal government provides cannabis to four medical cannabis patients every month
- Cannabis has been the subject of over 26,000 peer reviewed studies according to PubMed.gov
- 29 states have legalized cannabis for medical use, as has Washington D.C.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that cannabis does indeed possess medical value, and the undeniable hypocrisy of cannabis current federal status, the odds of the lawsuit being successful is unfortunately not great.
But that does not make the legal effort any less noble.
was recently decided in favor of a Schedule I review at the state level, so anything is possible.
A motion to dismiss the current case against the federal government was denied, so the case is moving forward, which can be seen as a positive sign that there is merit to the lawsuit.
The case is likely to take a considerable amount of time to run its course and for a decision to be rendered. In the meantime keep your fingers crossed that logic and compassion wins!
Is this the only way to remove cannabis from Schedule I?
Going through the DEA or the Department of Justice in general is just one option. It’s also the most difficult and complex.
Another, more straight forward option would be if congress simply voted cannabis out of Schedule I status.
It should be noted that when congress was initially debating on where in the Controlled Substance Act to schedule cannabis, they could not agree.
So a commission was appointed – the Schafer commission.
The commission conducted one of the most thorough scientific studies on cannabis to date. They presented their findings to President Nixon, suggesting cannabis be outright decriminalized for adult use.
Nixon ignored them because prohibiting cannabis was a means to controlling his political enemies.
One of his top aides, John Ehrlichman, admitted as much during a 1994 interview.
Despite the admission of corruption, this unfair law – cannabis as a Schedule I – is still in effect today.
It’s as if Nixon is ruling from the grave.
If enough people lobby their congressional representatives to de-schedule cannabis, maybe congress will finally have the courage to correct this terrible injustice.