Late last year, after the Department of Justice announced it was cracking down on several medical marijuana dispensaries that allegedly were dealing the drug to people who had no medical need for it, several dispensaries fought back with lawsuits claiming that this crackdown is unconstitutional. At the time, ThinkProgress lamented the crackdown as an unfortunate waste of limited prosecutorial resources on an activity that nearly half of all Americans — including our last three presidents — will at some point engage in.
At the same time, however, the fact that a law is misguided does not make it unconstitutional — the consequence of living in a democracy is that our elected leaders will sometimes do foolish things — and a federal court just did the right thing by tossing out the first of these lawsuits:
A federal judge in Sacramento this week dismissed a federal lawsuit filed in November by members of the NORML Legal Committee against the US Department of Justice, US Attorney General Eric Holder, and DEA Director Michele Leonhart. The lawsuit (read it here), one of four filed simultaneously in the state’s four federal districts, argues that the Justice Department’s ongoing crackdown against medical marijuana providers and distributors in California is in violation of the Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution because the use of cannabis therapeutically is a fundamental right. Petitioners also argue, using the theory of judicial estoppel, that the Justice Department had previously affirmed in public memos and in statements made in federal court that it would no longer use federal resources to prosecute cannabis patients or providers who are compliant with state law.
On Wednesday, US District Judge Garland Burrell, Jr., rejected those arguments and and granted the respondent’s dismissal motion.
The fact that constitutional litigation is not an appropriate vehicle to move America towards more reasonable drug laws does not mean that medical marijuana dispensaries should simply hang up their heat lamps and go home — or even that they need to lobby Congress to enable themselves to operate legally. Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that it has “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.” Meanwhile, many common painkillers that cause thousands of deaths every year are classified at Schedule II or Schedule III and can be prescribed by a physician.
The Obama Administration has the power to reschedule marijuana to allow doctors to decide when it is the right treatment for their patients, and, indeed, a bipartisan group of Members of Congress have called up it to do so.