Federal Judge Dismisses Case Challenging Marijuana Prohibition

mg magazine Federal Court Building in Manhattan
mg magazine Federal Court Building in Manhattan

A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the government’s prohibition of marijuana on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. The judge ruled that it was not an issue to be decided by a court but rather the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

One of the plaintiffs in the case was 12-year-old Alexis Bortell who was suing for the right to use medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy. Other plaintiffs included well as former NFL player Marvin Washington and Amry veteran Jose Belen.


“After years of searching for viable treatment options, Alexis began using medical marijuana. Since then, she has gone nearly three years without a single seizure,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote in his opinion. “I highlight plaintiffs’ experience to emphasize that this decision should not be understood as a factual finding that marijuana lacks any medical use in the United States.”

“We believe the judge has the ability to review the agency’s prior determinations that no longer hold water,” David Holland, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs said according to Forbes.

Judge Hellerstein said the plaintiffs failed to pursue administrative procedures within the DEA to properly challenge the ban.

Being told to pursue changes through the DEA could be a tall order for medical marijuana patients. Less than two months ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole Memo, a key protection that patients and marijuana businesses had against federal prosecution. It is unlikely Sessions’ and his agency would be willing to reconsider this stance in the near future.

“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, another attorney for the plaintiffs said according to Reuters.

The plaintiffs also argued that marijuana was classified as a Schedule I narcotic in order for the Nixon administration to target black and counter-culture members during the 1970s. A former Nixon aide confirmed that this was indeed the strategy of the White House.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” former aide former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman said in an interview.

But Judge Hellerstein ruled that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the government acted  “to intentionally discriminate against African Americans.”

Marijuana is currently a Schedule I narcotic and viewed by the federal government as more dangerous than heroin and having “no medicinal value.”