Constitutional Challenge to Marijuana Classification Rejected

February 27, 2018

By Bernie Pazanowski

A novel constitutional challenge to marijuana’s federal classification as a drug with a high probability of abuse and no medical use was shelved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Under the law, the attorney general delegated reclassification decisions to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the opinion by Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein noted.

Because the plaintiffs, who use medical marijuana, didn’t exhaust their administrative remedies, their challenge must be dismissed, the court said Feb. 26.

Plaintiffs argued that leaving marijuana as a Schedule I drug violates due process because it lacks a rational basis. They also said it ran afoul of states’ rights.

The Justice Department argued that the plaintiffs first had to petition the DEA before suing the government.

Marijuana is used for medical treatment today and there is no rational basis for concluding otherwise, the court said. At bottom, however, the plaintiffs’ challenge is to the administrative decision not to reclassify the drug, it said.

The court emphasized that it wasn’t ruling on the merits of the claims and noted how marijuana has helped the plaintiffs’ treatment. Nevertheless, it tossed the case.

Plaintiffs represented by Hiller, PC vowed to appeal. The attorneys said in a statement to Bloomberg Law that the administrative process could take up to nine years, which could amount to a death sentence for some of the plaintiffs.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

With assistance from Melissa Heelan Stanzione

The case is Washington v. Sessions , 2018 BL 63683, S.D.N.Y., No 1:17-cv-05625, 2/26/18 .

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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