Lawsuit to Federally Legalize Marijuana Gets The Boot

By Victoria Kim 03/01/18
Among the plaintiffs are 12-year-old Alexis Bortell and former NFL defensive end Marvin Washington.
serious female judge with gavel in hand

The lawsuit brought by a 12-year-old medical cannabis patient and a former NFL player that sought to legalize cannabis in all 50 states was rejected Monday (Feb. 26) in federal district court.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2017, argued that the prohibition of cannabis is “irrational and thus unconstitutional,” and challenged the federal government’s classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.

Under this act, signed into law by former President Richard Nixon in 1970, cannabis is lumped in the same category as heroin and LSD, defined by the federal government as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The plaintiffs—among them 12-year-old Alexis Bortell, former NFL defensive end Marvin Washington and the Cannabis Cultural Associationsought to prove that cannabis does not belong in Schedule I, and that it does have medical benefits.

But to the dismay of the plaintiffs, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of Federal District Court in Manhattan tossed out the lawsuit on Monday. However, he explained in his ruling that this had little to do with the plaintiff’s arguments; but rather, he rejected the lawsuit because “the plaintiffs had failed to take the necessary first step of asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to remove cannabis from its list of dangerous substance,” the New York Times reported.

Judge Hellerstein did acknowledge that cannabis was able to help 12-year-old Alexis Bortell, who suffered intractable epilepsy since the age of 7. Unable to find relief, she was recommended brain surgery, but her family followed a pediatrician’s suggestion instead—to move to Colorado, where she could access cannabis oil and get some relief.

By using cannabis oil twice a day, under the tongue, Bortell was able to go from several seizures a day to “nearly three years without a single seizure,” Judge Hellerstein said.

A lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Joseph A. Bondy, said earlier this month that the lawsuit was the first of its kind.

“It’s the first time a young child who needs lifesaving medicine has stood up to the government to be able to use it,” he told the New York Times. “It’s the first time that a group of young millennials of color has stood up to the government and said the marijuana law is wrong and has destroyed their communities. We might not have been able to do this 10 or 15 years ago. But the climate is very different now.”

But it seems the plaintiffs will have to wait a while longer before they’ll see any progress. Bondy said they may appeal the judge's ruling. “The bottom line is that we think the judge neglected parts of our argument that were of critical importance,” he said.

Additional arguments made in the lawsuit point out the racial bias of federal cannabis laws, and cited the so-called dangerous drug’s place in history—including use by former Presidents Barack Obama and Thomas Jefferson, to the ancient Egyptians, who they say used cannabis to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids.

Bondy continued, “We believe in our claims and we’re going to continue to push the ball forward.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr