Federal Case Challenging Constitutionality of Cannabis Prohibition Heads Back to Court on Valentine’s Day


February 12, 2018 | TJ Branfalt

In case you missed it, there is a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions – the text of which reveals the history of the 12,000-year relationship between humans and cannabis and how prohibition not only negatively affects the plaintiffs but potentially all humankind.

The suit is filed in the Southern District U.S. Court in New York on behalf of former NFL player Marvin Washington; disabled U.S. Military veteran Dean Bortell and his daughter Alexis, now 12-years-old, who suffers from intractable epilepsy; Sebastien Cotte, father of Jagger, a now 7-year-old boy suffering from Leigh’s Disease; Jose Belen, a 70 percent disabled Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran; and the Cannabis Cultural Association.

The Plaintiffs

Alexis, who resides with her family in Colorado as a “medical refugee,” is originally from Texas. She has received the most national attention for her role in the suit, catching headlines like “12-Year-Old Sues Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Legalize Medical Marijuana.” She’s also written a book called “Let’s Talk About Medical Cannabis: One of the Earliest Medical Communities Seen Through the Eyes of its Youngest Advocate.” Her father, Dean, is a 100 percent disabled Navy veteran.

Washington, another resident of Texas who in 1999 won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos, currently works with Swiss firm Isidiol that manufactures CBD products. According to the suit, Washington eyes expanding his business to include whole-plant cannabis products – and would like to receive federal funding through the Minority Business Enterprise Program to expand his business but is unable to do so due to cannabis’ Schedule I federal status.

Belen, 35 and from Florida, is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the complaint, Belen is “unable to forget and/or otherwise cope with his memory of the horrors of war that he had witnessed in Iraq.”

Jagger, who lives in Georgia with the family, might not be alive if not for cannabis. Leigh’s Disease kills “approximately 95 percent of people afflicted with it” if diagnosed before age two by the time they are 4-years-old, the suit says. Jagger was diagnosed at age one. He is now seven.

The Cannabis Cultural Association is a New York-based non-profit which helps “marginalized communities engage in the legal cannabis industry, emphasizing criminal justice reform, access to medical cannabis, and adult use legalization.”

The Defendants

Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III, former Alabama Senator and Attorney General of the United States since 2017. Sessions might be most infamous to the cannabis community for saying that “good people don’t smoke marijuana” and for rescinding federal protections for state-legal cannabis programs outlined in the Cole Memo.

The U.S. Department of Justice, the federal agency headed by Sessions responsible for enforcing U.S. law, including the crimes violating the Controlled Substances Act. Under the Barack Obama Administration, the Justice Department had taken a hands-off approach to state-approved cannabis programs with a directive known as the Cole Memo. Sessions rescinded that memo in January.

Charles “Chuck” Rosenberg and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The lawsuit contends that the DEAs “legal mechanism available to the public to file petitions to change the classifications of drugs and medications previously scheduled under the auspices of the CSA is illusory.”

The suit points to eight such attempts by governors, individuals, and organizations to de-schedule or reschedule cannabis under the CSA that were either denied or declined by the DEA. One, by the Hemp Industries Association and the Kentucky Hemp Industry Council, filed last June is still pending. However, in 1999 – after four years of consideration – the agency granted a request by UNIMED Pharmaceuticals Inc, manufacturers of Marinol, to reclassify the drug from Schedule II to Schedule III. Marinol, a synthetic cannabinoid, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1985 to “treat nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy in patients who have failed to respond adequately to conventional treatments” and to “treat appetite loss associated with weight loss in AIDS patients.”

Rosenberg once quipped that medical cannabis is “a joke.”

Under the glow of LED grow lights inside of a Washington cannabis cultivation center. Photo credit: Sarah Climaco