On Monday, a federal judge in New York dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of plaintiffs who were seeking nationwide legalization of marijuana under federal law.
Among the plaintiffs included a former NFL player and a 12-year-old girl who was forced to move from Texas to Colorado so she could have access to medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy.
According to a copy of the opinion obtained by The New York Times, the judge who issued the opinion — Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein — was careful to point out that his decision was not based on whether or not marijuana lacks any legitimate medical use.
Instead, he focused on certain federal rules that require the plaintiffs to first ask the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to remove marijuana from its list of Schedule 1 drugs, which they didn’t do. Ultimately, he concluded that the authority to declassify marijuana rests with the DEA, not the courts.
While the plaintiffs plan to appeal this decision, there are those who simply cannot afford to wait. Indeed, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a statement, “Resigning the plaintiffs to the petitioning administrative process is tantamount to a death sentence for those patients who need cannabis to live.”
I thought marijuana was already legal in Colorado — isn’t it?
While Colorado has legalized marijuana under state law for both recreational and medical purposes, it is important to remember that it is still illegal under federal law. This means a person may still face federal marijuana charges regardless of whether it is legal under state law.
In fact, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even announced a few months ago that he was going to abandon the previous policy that left marijuana regulation largely up to the states. Under this previous policy, federal officials typically wouldn’t pursue marijuana charges so long as the individual was in compliance with state law. Going forward, that may no longer be the case.