A two-pronged assault was launched against the federal government’s insane marijuana laws last week, one in the courts and one in the United States Senate.
The lawsuit, which names Attorney General Jeff Sessions as one of the defendants, really does target the insane nature of federal pot laws. It challenges the constitutionality of the Controlled Substances Act as it applies to marijuana on grounds that the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
Schedule I drugs are defined as drugs that have no medical use and have a high potential for abuse, like heroin.
The plaintiffs in the case, who include former NFL player Marvin Washington, argue that the federal government knows that marijuana does in fact have medical uses, because some time ago it obtained a patent on a medical pot product based on its assertion that cannabis is a safe and effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and HIV-induced dementia, as well as several other conditions, and that it admitted in statements by the U.S. Surgeon General and a federal administrative law judge that cannabis does constitute medicine.
It further cites the fact that the feds have established a national policy of refraining from investigating and prosecuting medical and recreational pot businesses and users in the 29 states that have legalized marijuana in one form or another.
The lawsuit also claims the Controlled Substances Act was enacted and implemented in order to discriminate against African Americans and to suppress people’s First Amendment rights.
“The record makes clear that the Controlled Substances Act doesn’t make any rational sense, and the federal government knows it,” said Michael Hiller, the lead counsel in the case. He also said if the federal government “doesn’t believe in the rationality of its own statute, it’s unconstitutional to enforce it.”
The assault in the Senate took the form of a bill that was introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D- New Jersey) that would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, retroactively expunge the records of those convicted of marijuana use and possession under federal law, and allow convicts currently serving time in a federal prison for use and possession to petition a court for resentencing.
It would also use federal grants to incentivize states in which pot is still illegal to change their laws. And it would withhold federal funds for prison construction or staffing in states that have disproportionate marijuana offense arrest rates for minority and low-income individuals.
Tom Angell, who heads the legalization advocacy group Marijuana Majority, called the bill “the single most far-reaching marijuana bill that’s ever been filed in either chamber of Congress.”
Removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act would effectively legalize it at the federal level.
The provisions expunging convictions for marijuana use and possession under federal law and allowing individuals in federal prisons for pot use and possession would have little effect nationwide, since most use and possession violations are prosecuted under state laws. However it would have a major effect in Washington D.C., where only federal law applies — and where most of the defendants are likely to be black.
Don’t get your hopes up for either the lawsuit or the Booker Bill succeeding. Both the federal courts and the U.S. Senate have long track records of being too chicken to address the obvious injustices and irrationalities in federal marijuana laws, notwithstanding the fact that, as with alcohol prohibition, their failure to do so breeds contempt for the rule of law and lawmakers.
The importance of both the lawsuit and the Booker bill is that they attack federal pot prohibition head on, directly challenging its constitutionality and its rationality. At last the core issues — constitutionality, irrationality and racism — are being directly targeted in ways that will be hard for the country’s legislative and judicial poltroons to ignore. Hiller and Sen. Booker may not prevail initially, but, if the course of previous civil liberties and civil rights struggles are any guide, what they’ve begun will eventually end in victory.
And given growing public support for legalization, that may be sooner rather than later.