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Lawsuit Claims Federal Marijuana Ban Is Unconstitutional

Rusty Blazenhoff/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Medical cannabis growing operation in Oakland, California

From Texas Standard.

A veteran, a former NFL player, and two sick kids walk into a New York courtroom. And the outcome could impact marijuana laws nationwide.

A U.S District judge in Manhattan began hearing oral arguments Wednesday in a federal lawsuit aimed at overturning the government’s prohibition on marijuana.

The plaintiffs say the federal ban is unconstitutional, and two of the people making that argument are native Texans. Marvin Washington is a former NFL player from Dallas and Alexis Bortell is an 11-year-old with intractable epilepsy originally from Tyler.

Douglas Berman, a professor of criminal law at the Ohio State University who blogs about marijuana policy, says the case has gathered a lot of attention because the defendants use marijuana in “sympathetic ways” including relief from PTSD and severe medical conditions.

Berman says that while federal authorities are unlikely to prosecute individual medical marijuana users, the substance’s Schedule 1 drug status makes things difficult for state systems where marijuana is legal for medical use. It’s also difficult for health experts to learn more about marijuana’s medical effects and uses.

“Big pharmaceutical companies and others feel restrained, and are unwilling to…go through the regulations that are required to even start studying how to develop more medicines using the compounds in marijuana,” Berman says.

The federal government argues that the way to change marijuana’s status is not through a suit, but either through legislation or by changing Drug Enforcement Agency policy.

Berman says the plaintiffs’ case is winnable because, despite restrictions, research shows that marijuana has medical benefits for those who use it. He also suggests that given the time required for a case to reach the Supreme Court, seeking changes in Congress might be a better bet.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

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