U.S. District Judge May Declare Marijuana Laws Unconstitutional

By Paul Gaita 11/07/14

A landmark case in California could change the legal status of weed.

justice scales_0.jpg

A landmark decision in regard to the legal status of marijuana is underway in Sacramento as a judge reviews evidence that may declare its status as a Schedule I drug unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller concluded hearings on Thursday on a preliminary motion by defense attorneys Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke in the case of U.S. vs. Schweder, which involved six men charged with growing marijuana on national forest land in Northern California in 2011. Local, state, and federal law enforcement and forest service officials converged on what appeared to be a large grow operation in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, where 500 marijuana plants, 1,000 pounds of processed cannabis, and firearms were uncovered.

The property owners, Brian Pickard and Bryan Schweder ultimately faced 10 to 15 years for marijuana possession and cultivation, among other charges. But Gilg and Burke, who are members of the NORML Legal Committee, argued that because of recent legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, the U.S. government cannot maintain that marijuana is a Schedule I drug.

In a move that surprised both legal experts and cannabis industry representatives, Mueller agreed to an evidentiary hearing on marijuana’s classification. Gilg and Burke presented testimony from three medical experts who declared cannabis as one of the world’s oldest and most proven therapeutic medicinal substances. The prosecution offered testimony from Harvard professor Bertha Madras, a former official in the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush. Madras refuted the medicinal value of marijuana and cited its “high potential for abuse” as justification for its Schedule I classification.

Mueller will now review hours of testimony and hundreds of pages of scientific material before ruling on the case. While any decision she makes will apply only to the defendants in this case, observers are already declaring it the beginning of the end for marijuana’s Schedule I status.

“That decision will have national implications," said Paul Armentato, deputy director of NORML. “[It] will perhaps kick open the door to begin the long overdue discussion in the legislative halls of government, where arguably, it ought to be taken place in the first place [sic].”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.