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Judge rejects lawsuit challenging federal marijuana ban

February 27, 2018 GMT

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging marijuana’s status as Schedule 1 controlled substance, leaving cannabis for now in the same category as drugs including heroin and ecstasy.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled from Manhattan federal court Monday against plaintiffs including medical marijuana patients who claim the plant’s Schedule 1 categorization is unconstitutional, referring their challenge instead to the Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

″[P]laintiffs’ claim is an administrative one, not one premised on the constitution,” the judge wrote, and “is best understood as a collateral attack on the various administrative determinations not to reclassify marijuana into a different drug schedule.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs initiated the lawsuit in July, claiming in a 98-complaint that their clients’ constitutional rights are violated by federal laws criminalizing the plant.

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Marijuana is classified under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act as a “Schedule I” substance, placing the plant in a category reserved for substances considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical use. Twenty-nine states and D.C. have since legalized the plant for medical or recreational purposes, however, and attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that their clients among them children who use doctor-recommended cannabis to treat serious health conditions are unjustly suffering as a consequence of federal law.

Deferring to the DEA, the judge ruled that plaintiffs “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” in seeking federal reclassification.

″[T]his decision should not be understood as a factual finding that marijuana lacks any medical use in the United States, for the authority to make that determination is vested in the administrative process,” he wrote.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs said intend to to appeal this week’s ruling.

“Resigning the plaintiffs to the petitioning administrative process is tantamount to a death sentence for those patients who need cannabis to live,” said Michael Hiller, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney. “The time has come for the courts to abandon decades-old precedent, notched with obsolete legal technicalities, and catch up with modern science and contemporary principles of constitutional law.”

Army combat veteran Jose Belen, a plaintiff in the case who uses marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, called the ruling “just the beginning.”

“We are on the right side of history, and we will take this fight to the Supreme Court if necessary,” he said in a statement.

Other plaintiffs in the case include medical marijuana patients Alexis Bortell and Jagger Cotte, former NFL player-turned-cannabis entrepreneur Marvin Washington and the Cannabis Cultural Association nonprofit group.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office defending the case did not return a message seeking comment, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions in January rescinded Obama-era policies that had advised the Justice Department against pursuing marijuana convictions in states with medical and recreational laws. Meanwhile, the Sensible Enforcement Of Cannabis Act bipartisan legislation introduced in the House this month would effectively codify the protections nullified by Mr. Sessions.