Judge Dismisses Suit to Legalize Marijuana

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A federal judge in New York City has dismissed a lawsuit that sought to make marijuana legal under federal law. Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that plaintiffs had failed to take the necessary first step of asking the Drug Enforcement Administration to remove cannabis from its list of dangerous substances, the New York Times reports. The plaintiffs included a former professional football player who owns a company that sells pot-based pain relievers, a 12-year-old girl who treats her chronic epilepsy with medical marijuana and a nonprofit group that works on behalf of minorities in the marijuana industry. The suit used novel legal arguments, including a claim that U.S. marijuana laws have traditionally discriminated against minorities and have long precluded people who use pot for their illnesses from boarding airplanes, which are regulated by the federal government.

Hellerstein said that his decision did not address the plaintiff’s argument that marijuana has medical benefits and thus should not be classified under the 1970 Controlled Substances Acts as a so-called Schedule 1 drug, the category reserved for the most pernicious substances. The judge said the plaintiffs were bound to ask the DEA to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, and they did not. The DEA rejected similar requests in 2011 and 2016. Another federal judge ruled two years ago that while marijuana has a clear medical purpose, Congress and the DEA still have a right to regulate it. The lawsuit cited historical uses of marijuana, including use by ancient Egyptians to treat eye sores and hemorrhoids, and by Thomas Jefferson for migraines. James Madison credited “sweet hemp” for giving him “insight to create a new and democratic nation,” the suit said.

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