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DEA Marijuana Scheduling Lawsuit Will Be Appealed To Supreme Court Following Dismissal

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A federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over the classification of marijuana last week after the plaintiffs announced they would not pursue an administrative policy change as the court had recommended.

Now, the plaintiffs—a coalition of medical cannabis patients and activists, including Alexis Bortell and former NFL player Marvin Washington—plan to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The suit, which was first filed in 2017, argued that keeping marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is unconstitutional because it creates undue burdens that jeopardize patients’ lives by preventing access to what a majority of states now regard as a medicine. They sought a court mandate to enjoin DEA and require the agency to cease enforcement of federal cannabis prohibition.

A U.S. District Court dismissed that request, stating that the plaintiffs must first seek administrative relief through existing channels such as a petition asking DEA directly to reclassify cannabis. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld that decision last year, concluding that it “cannot be seriously argued that this remedy is not available through the administrative process.”

The court kept the case open, stressing that DEA should “promptly” consider rescheduling and gave the petitioners six months to submit a request with the agency. After initially requesting a deadline extension for that action—which was denied in January—the plaintiffs informed the court that they would not be asking DEA to consider rescheduling because they believe they would be denied and because the agency would, at best, reclassify marijuana as a Schedule II drug, which they said would create additional harms.

“As reflected in prior correspondence to this Court, reclassification of cannabis under Schedule II would actually exacerbate the conditions afflicting our clients; would instantly throw thousands of cannabis businesses out of business; and would disrupt the lives of tens of thousands, if not millions, of Americans who rely upon cannabis daily to sustain their health, wellness, and lives,” Michael Hiller, who is representing the plaintiffs, wrote in January.

In a phone interview with Marijuana Moment on Tuesday, Hiller argued that placing marijuana in Schedule II would mean that the industry would have to be medicalized in a way that would end state-regulated dispensaries. Instead, he suggested, cannabis products would have to be Food and Drug Administration-approved, and only pharmacists could prescribe it, limiting access.

That’s an interesting perspective that could create complications for former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee who opposes descheduling but supports moving marijuana to Schedule II. While the modest rescheduling might seem to be an improvement, many advocates familiar with the potential consequences of that policy change are unlikely to view it as a victory.

“Because the petitioning and administrative process under the CSA threatens to harm our clients without affording them the opportunity to achieve the benefits the lawsuit was designed to achieve, we are not going to file the Petition with the DEA,” Hiller wrote.

Because the plaintiffs refused to seek administrative relief, the federal appeals court issued a response on Friday, stating that “it is hereby ORDERED that the district court’s judgment is AFFIRMED and the case is DISMISSED with prejudice.”

The plaintiffs anticipated that decision and wrote in their letter that once judgement is entered, “we will file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court in the hope that Plaintiffs may finally be afforded the opportunity to prove at trial, their claims that the mis-classification of cannabis under the CSA violates their rights under the United States Constitution.”

“We always knew we’d end up at the Supreme Court, irrespective of who won in the lower courts, because we are seeking to change the law,” Hiller told Marijuana Moment. “Whenever you seek to change federal law, you are likely to end up at the Supreme Court. Our hope is to win a declaration that the classification of cannabis is unconstitutional (because it is), thereby rendering the CSA unenforceable and legalizing cannabis at the federal level nationwide.”

He also raised the point that the Justice Department could be put in an awkward position if it attempts to oppose the writ of certiorari after it’s filed in July, arguing that it would contradict President Trump, who has voiced support for medical cannabis as well as states’ rights when it comes to adult-use legalization.

“If we were to obtain certiorari and win in the Supreme Court, cannabis would be de-scheduled from the Controlled Substances Act and thus legal under federal law. It would then be up to the individual states to determine whether to legalize or prohibit cannabis cultivation, sale, possession and use,” Hiller said. “That is effectively the outcome that candidate Trump promised to deliver in 2016 when he was running for president.”

“Back then, he stated repeatedly that he was one hundred percent in favor of federally legalizing cannabis for medical use, and that he believed the question of adult-use legalization was for the states to decide individually,” he continued. “Thus, to be consistent with the president’s campaign promise, the Justice Department not only should not oppose our request for certiorari; the Justice Department should join it and advocate for a reversal of the 2d Circuit decision.”

DEA has on numerous past occasions outright denied petitions to change marijuana’s status under the CSA, most recently in 2016.

The current case isn’t the only cannabis-related lawsuit DEA has faced in recent years. Scientists sued the agency last year, alleging that it had deliberately delayed approving additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes despite pledging to expand the number of those facilities in 2016.

A court mandated that DEA take steps to make good on its promise, and that case was dropped after DEA provided a status update.

Last month, DEA finally unveiled a revised rule change proposal that it said was necessary due to the high volume of applicants and to address potential complications related to international treaties to which the U.S. is a party. A public comment period is now open, after which point the agency says it will finally approve an unspecified number of additional growers.

The scientists behind the original case filed another suit against DEA in March, claiming that the agency used a “secret” document to justify its delay of approving manufacturer applications.

According to the plaintiffs, after DEA said it would accept more cultivators, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel secretly issued an opinion that interprets international treaty obligations as making it impossible to carry out the 2016 proposed rule while maintaining compliance.

Read the court order and plaintiff letter below:

2nd Circuit Dea Order and L… by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Lawmakers File Bill To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds

Photo elements courtesy of rawpixel and Philip Steffan.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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Most Kansas City Government Workers Will No Longer Face Pre-Employment Marijuana Tests Following City Council Vote

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Most government workers in Kansas City, Missouri will no longer face pre-employment drug tests for marijuana under an ordinance that the City Council approved on Thursday.

The measure, which was introduced by Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) in July, was passed by local lawmakers in an 11-2 vote.

“It shall be unlawful for the City of Kansas City to require a prospective employee to submit to testing for the presence of marijuana in the prospective employee’s system as a condition of employment,” the text of the ordinance states.

Lucas, who last year filed a since-enacted measure to remove all local criminal penalties for cannabis possession, celebrated the latest development.

“Opportunities should not be foreclosed unnecessarily. Glad to see passage of our law eliminating pre-employment screening for marijuana at Kansas City government for most positions,” he said. “One step of many in becoming a fairer city.”

There are some exceptions to the policy change. Law enforcement, workers who require a commercial driver’s license and those who are involved in the supervision of “children, medical patients, disabled or other vulnerable individuals” can still be screened for cannabis.

Last year, the mayor announced a pardon program for those with previous convictions for possession of marijuana or paraphernalia.

Drug testing for cannabis has become a hot topic of late since the Olympics suspension of U.S. runner Sha’Carri Richardson, with more people arguing that use of the plant shouldn’t lead to punishments, especially given the ongoing rise of the legalization movement. The World Anti-Doping Agency recent announced that it would review its marijuana policy for athletes next year.

The Biden administration has come under fire this year for terminating or otherwise punishing staffers who were honest about their past cannabis use as part of the background check process.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said that nobody in the White House was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.” However, she’s consistently declined to speak to the extent to which staff have been suspended or placed in a remote work program because they were honest about their history with marijuana on a federal form that’s part of the background check process.

In June, a powerful congressional committee released a report that urges federal agencies to reconsider policies that result in the firing of employees who use marijuana legally in accordance with state law.

Separate standalone legislation has been previously introduced by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) to provide protections for federal workers who consume cannabis in compliance with state law, but it never received a hearing or a vote and has not been refiled so far this Congress.

As of last year, New York City employers are no longer able to require pre-employment drug testing for marijuana as a part of the hiring process—though there are a series of exemptions to the policy. The City Council approved the ban in 2019, and it was enacted without Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) signature.

Statewide in Missouri, voters may see multiple marijuana initiatives on the state’s 2022 ballot, with a group filing an adult-use legalization proposal last month that could compete with separate reform measures that are already in the works.

Full-Page Washington Post Ad Calls For Marijuana Prisoner’s Freedom While Celebs Make Money In Industry

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Full-Page Washington Post Ad Calls For Marijuana Prisoner’s Freedom While Celebs Make Money In Industry

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Supporters of a 26-year-old man who is currently incarcerated while awaiting sentencing for a federal marijuana charge took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post on Thursday, blasting the hypocrisy of his imprisonment while celebrities like Beyonce, Jay Z, Seth Rogen and Willie Nelson stand to profit off the legal cannabis industry.

Jonathan Wall faces up to 15 years in prison on charges that he and other conspired to traffic marijuana from California to Maryland over two years. His family says this is a flagrant miscarriage of justice that highlights the need for relief for Wall and for broader federal marijuana reform.

The ad has the headline, “Who will be the last person incarcerated for marijuana in the United States?”

“Cannabis corporations are in Maryland and 26 other states making billions in revenue growing, manufacturing and distributing pot,” it says. “Cannabis conglomerates wonderfully engaged in branding, licensing , product innovation, research and development.”

Click to access washington-post-marijuana-ad.pdf

It notes that, just miles away from where Wall is being held, consumers can buy marijuana from major marijuana businesses like Curaleaf or Acreage Holdings, which counts former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) among its board members.

“But then you—along with the likes of Jay Z, Seth Rogen, and Willie Nelson—would be in violation of U.S. federal law and subject to incarceration,” the ad says. “26-year-old Jonathan Wall faces life in prison while Beyonce says that she’s starting a cannabis farm. This is not the way the law is supposed to work.”

“President Biden recently gave a speech about how 20 years in Afghanistan was too long and that our continued involvement there was a mistake. Well, what about more than 50 years of proven failure, 50 years of gross economic waste, 50 years of caging our own citizens, 50 years of asset forfeiture abuse, 50 years of enforcement disparity and evisceration of the constitutional rights of people of color. In a country where you can guy an assault rifle and fifth of whiskey, federal prohibition of cannabis has never been about more than fear, bias, race, stigmatization and control.”

This isn’t the first time that the Biden administration has faced demands to provide relief for people criminalized over marijuana.

Congressional lawmakers have also recently pushed President Joe Biden to grant clemency to nearly 20,000 people in the federal prison system—including those with drug convictions.

A group of more than 150 celebrities, athletes, politicians, law enforcement professionals and academics separately signed a letter that was delivered to Biden, asking him to issue a “full, complete and unconditional pardon” to all people with non-violent federal marijuana convictions.

While advocates are looking for more, the Biden administration is asking a fraction of people with drug convictions who were placed on home confinement amid the coronavirus pandemic to apply for the relief.

“It is time for our government to admit that it has made a mistake,” the new ad says.

Mississippi Lawmakers Reach Deal On Medical Marijuana Legalization, Plan To Request Special Session

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House Officially Passes Defense Bill With Marijuana Banking Protections, But Key Senators May Block Path Ahead

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a large-scale defense spending bill that includes an amendment to shield banks that works with state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators. Now advocates and industry stakeholders are left wondering: what’s the fate of the reform in the Senate? And can it make it to the president’s desk?

New comments from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—who’s helping lead the charge to advance comprehensive marijuana legalization and who has been severely critical of efforts to enact banking reform first—signal that the path to pass the incremental policy change through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could be in jeopardy in the Senate. Other key senators have also expressed skepticism about the reform’s prospects through this process.

For supporters, things may have been more simple if the Senate had moved to include cannabis banking reform in its own version, but the text of NDAA released by Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday does not contain that language. That means the matter will need to be settled in a bicameral conference committee after the full Senate formally passes its bill. At that point, negotiators from both chambers will work to resolve differences between their separate proposals.

Already, there’s pushback from key senators to including the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act in the NDAA that’s ultimately sent to President Joe Biden. That’s not especially surprising considering that leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), has insisted on passing comprehensive justice-focused marijuana legalization first rather than advance an incremental reform on banking. But recent statements do raise questions about the prospects of enacting the reform through the defense bill.

It’s not that the SAFE Banking Act is partisan or especially controversial on its face; it’s a matter of legislative priorities for certain senators and a question of germaneness in NDAA. As of Tuesday, when the reform amendment was officially attached to the House version of the bill, it has now passed five times in the chamber, usually along largely bipartisan lines.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), chief sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, spoke with Marijuana Moment about the process moving forward in a phone interview on Wednesday. He was optimistic about the measure’s prospects with NDAA as the vehicle, though he conceded that he hadn’t spoken with Schumer or other key senators who are actively finalizing legalization legislation that they hope to see move first.

“I think the fifth time is the charm,” he said. “I mean, obviously, we still have to do some work to make sure that it remains part of the NDAA as the House and the Senate go to conference. So we still have work to do with the Senate to make sure that it remains part of it. But I think that it will.”

“I mean, the fact that it deals with cartels and national security, on top of the need for the public safety piece of this thing, I think that we’ll be able to convince the conference committee and the conferees generally to keep it in,” he said. “But we still have work to do.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Some advocates have expressed support for enacting the achievable banking policy change while working to build support for more comprehensive reform.

“Enactment of the SAFE Banking Act would improve public safety and business efficiency in the 36 states that currently permit some form of retail marijuana sales,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “The Senate should ensure this provision remains in the final version of this funding package and enact it swiftly.”

“The SAFE Banking Act is only the first step toward making sure that state-legal marijuana markets operate safely and efficiently,” he said. “The sad reality is that those who own or patronize these currently unbanked businesses would still be recognized as criminals in the eyes of the federal government and by federal law. This situation can only be rectified by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances.”

Schumer and certain other senators, meanwhile, have insisted the banking issue should be tackled by holistically ending marijuana prohibition. They argue that it is inappropriate to pass what is seen as an industry-focused reform that helps businesses and investors while leaving unaddressed the harms of decades of racially disparate prohibition enforcement that should be addressed with equity-focused legalization.

Booker, who is helping Schumer alongside Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) to produce a final legalization bill has said he would proactively work to block any senators who attempt to get marijuana banking reform passed before enacting social justice-focused legalization legislation.

And Booker told Politico on Wednesday that cannabis banking is “something that should not be included” in NDAA.

“It undermines the ability to get comprehensive marijuana reform and the kind of things that are harder to get done like expungement of people’s records,” he said, echoing a point that Schumer made in an interview with Marijuana Moment in April. And a spokesperson for the majority leader affirmed that his position has not changed in light of the House development.

Should a senator propose a floor amendment to the chamber’s version of the defense bill to incorporate SAFE Banking, Booker left open the possibility of standing in its way.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), sponsor of the standalone Senate version of the SAFE Banking Act, also declined to say whether he would push to attach the reform to NDAA and told Politico he’d “love to see if we can even do the more comprehensive [reform]—that’d be even better.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI), meanwhile, told Roll Call that the issue hasn’t been discussed by members of his panel. And bipartisan supporters of the reform—including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rand Paul (R-KY)—told the outlet they weren’t certain that the Senate would pursue marijuana banking through NDAA.

Schatz also said that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “doesn’t like” the marijuana banking proposal, and so “he’s going to have to consult with the Republicans in his conference who are in favor of this reform, but so far he’s been blocking it.”

Based on these comments, it seems increasingly clear that the effort to enact SAFE Banking through the must-pass defense bill faces a tough road ahead. And despite bipartisan support for the proposal on its own, it’s an open question as to whether the negotiators in committees of jurisdiction will be able to reach a consensus.

At an initial meeting of the House Rules Committee about NDAA on Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), who is managing the bill for the chamber, acknowledged that while some members might consider certain amendments “superfluous” to defense spending matters, the annual legislation has been used as a vehicle to advance non-germane legislation in the past. He added, though, that doing so has historically required the issues at hand to have broad bipartisan support in order to survive the House-Senate conference committee process.

He didn’t specifically cite the cannabis banking proposal, but Perlmutter himself said earlier in the hearing that “whether something is superfluous is always in the eyes of the beholder,” signaling that he feels his measure’s germaneness in this context is up for interpretation.

Smith said that “whatever superfluous items the Rules Committee decides to put in order and get attached to this bill, we go to conference, and in conference, we work in a bipartisan fashion.”

But beyond Smith and Reed, it will also be up to leading members of key committees that handle banking issues to decide whether the measure gets a ride to the president’s desk in NDAA.

“We’re not going to pull one over on anybody here. We’re going to have to work with committees of jurisdiction—not just the chairs, but the ranking members as well—to come to some agreement on those before we go forward,” he said. “So if you see an item that you consider to be superfluous being added to the bill, don’t freak out.”

The chair’s comments about needing support from leaders of committees of jurisdiction raise questions about whether the amendment stands a chance in conference with the Senate following House approval. Not only did House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC) vote against the standalone SAFE Banking Act this year and in 2019, but on the Senate side, even Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has been generally unenthusiastic about advancing the reform.

On the flip side, House Finance Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) is a supporter of the banking reform and brought it through her panel last Congress. Senate Banking Committee Ranking Member Pat Toomey (R-PA), for his part, has previously voiced support for advancing the SAFE Banking Act.

Perlmutter has said that he appreciates that Senate leadership is pushing for a more comprehensive end to federal marijuana prohibition—and he agrees with Booker that promoting social equity is an important objective—but he feels the SAFE Banking Act is urgently needed to address public safety issues resulting from the industry’s lack of access to traditional financial institutions.

Some of the strongest proponents for broad reform like Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) voted in favor of the SAFE Banking Act in April despite the body yet having taken up a legalization measure this session.

FBI Clarifies That Using Marijuana More Than 24 Times Disqualifies Would-Be Agents

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