On Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed by cannabis advocates, challenging the Schedule I status of cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as both unconstitutional and irrational. Both long time anti-cannabis voice Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Charles Rosenberg, were named as defendants.

Scientists Medical Cannabis DEA Controlled Substance Act

Plaintiffs filing the case include a former NFL player, a veteran with PTSD, and two children who are medical cannabis patients. They are claiming that the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance - a category which includes the most dangerous substances such as heroin and LSD - violates the US Constitution. An 89-page complaint was filed in New York’s Southern District, arguing that the federal government has itself never believed that the three requirements for Schedule I substances have applied to cannabis. According to the DEA, to be classified as Schedule I, a substance should have no medical use in treating patients, no ability to be used or tested safely even under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.

According to a direct excerpt from the complaint:

“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 complaint additionally argues that when it comes to cannabis, the 1970 Controlled Substances Act was used as leverage to target protesters of the Vietnam War, and to further suppress the African American community:     

“The Nixon Administration ushered the CSA through Congress and insisted that cannabis be included on Schedule I so that African Americans and war protesters could be raided, prosecuted and incarcerated without identifying the actual and unconstitutional basis for the government’s actions.”

Just last year, a 22 year old interview was published, in which one of President Nixon’s top advisers admitted that the war on drugs was used as a tool to oppress those very groups:

"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people," said Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman. "We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."

A ruling favoring the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit would not in itself change the law, but would instead issue an injunction against enforcement of the CSA with regard to cannabis.The plaintiffs include a diverse set of cannabis advocates and medical cannabis patients:

DEA CSA Controlled Substance Act police marijuana cannabis

- Marvin Washington, a retired NFL defensive end and legalization advocate, is suing to be allowed to obtain a grant from the Federal Minority Business Enterprise program to start a cannabis business.

- Alexis Bortell is an 11-year-old who uses cannabis to treat epilepsy. Though she and her family moved to Colorado from Texas to access her medicine, she is suing because the CSA stops her from traveling around the country freely.

- Jagger Cotte, from Georgia, is a six-year-old who was diagnosed with the fatal Leigh’s Disease when he was one year old. Cannabis relieved his constant pain, and his parents believe it has allowed him to live longer. He is also suing because of the travel restrictions as a result of the CSA.

- Jose Balen, an Iraq veteran, uses cannabis to treat PTSD. He is suing to be allowed to enter a military base, and to travel by airplane with cannabis to states with cannabis prohibition.

The final plaintiff, the Cannabis Cultural Association from New York, helps marginalized communities to participate in the legal cannabis industry. They are suing because they say the CSA has historically been enforced in a discriminatory manner, disproportionately affecting communities of color and still stopping such groups from engaging in today’s legal cannabis industry.