On Tuesday, the Justice Department urged a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed Monday by prominent members of the cannabis industry that aims to stop the government from enforcing its ban on marijuana, even though some states have legalized it within their borders.
The DOJ lawsuit essentially says that the court should not get ahead of a possible cannabis rescheduling decision by the DEA, which is under consideration.
In a document filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts on Tuesday, lawyers for Attorney General Merrick Garland said that Congress "rationally set up an administrative process for rescheduling drugs," reported Marijuana Moment.
“It is not for the courts to disrupt or get ahead of that administrative process,” the DOJ stated as it urged the court to wait for the DEA’s decision before considering the industry’s challenge.
But the government’s defense goes beyond procedural concerns. It also argues that the cannabis businesses involved in the suit lack standing, meaning they have not suffered direct injury. They have not been federally prosecuted under the prohibition nor from a long-standing congressional rider that restricts the DOJ from using funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana laws.
Furthermore, the DOJ argues that Congress’s measures, including permitting federal territories to legalize marijuana and refraining from prosecuting activities that comply with state laws, fulfill a “rational purpose.” This approach, according to the DOJ, allows for experimentation while directing federal efforts towards more pressing issues.
Another key part of the government’s strategy involves invoking a 2005 Supreme Court decision, Raich v. Gonzales, which upheld the federal ban on interstate marijuana commerce. The DOJ views the industry’s challenge as a transparent attempt to overturn this precedent.
“Federal regulation of intrastate marijuana activities is constitutional because such activities ‘substantially affect interstate commerce,'” the department argued, dismissing the industry’s claim that the ban violates the Commerce Clause.
The government asserts that the industry lacks standing to raise due process concerns, as courts have consistently ruled that distributing, possessing, or using marijuana are not fundamental rights. This, according to the DOJ, subjects the Controlled Substance Act to a less stringent legal test, which it easily passes.
The Justice Department also argues that the industry has not demonstrated a “substantial risk of future enforcement” necessary for a pre-enforcement challenge. They point to the department’s own policy of focusing on conduct that interferes with critical federal interests, leaving enforcement of state marijuana laws largely to state and local authorities.
This legal tug-of-war highlights the ever-evolving landscape of cannabis policy. As states continue to embrace legalization, the federal government’s stance remains uncertain. The DEA’s potential rescheduling decision could be a watershed moment, but until then, the industry’s quest to dismantle the federal ban continues to face roadblocks in the courts.
The plaintiffs involved in the case who claim their operations have been challenged due to federal prohibition include Gyasi Sellers, CEO and founder of Treevit, Canna Provisions and Wiseacre Farm as well as Verano Holdings (OTCQX:VRNOF), Ascend Wellness (OTCQX:AAWH), Green Thumb Industries (OTCQX:GTBIF), TerrAscend (OTCQX:TSNDF), Eminence Capital and Poseidon Investment Management.
Image: Benzinga edit with Shutterstock photo
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