In case Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t have enough to worry about lately with dodging President Trump’s remarkable interview- and Tweet-harangues (Trump called his long-time supporter “beleaguered,” for one), a new concern — in the form of a lawsuit — just landed on his desk.
Can a dubious classification violate the Constitution?
The suit, filed by five plaintiffs including former NFL player Marvin Washington, alleges that the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance is more than just questionable — it sinks to the level of unconstitutional. In addition to Sessions, the suit names the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Other Schedule I drugs include LSD, ecstasy, and heroin, “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
If you’re not Jeff Sessions (who has said that “good people don’t smoke marijuana”), it’s hard to wholly agree with defining cannabis that way. At this point, more than half of the country has legalized marijuana, either recreationally or medically (or, like here at home, both). That’s 29 states plus the District of Columbia.
And contrary to the popular belief of more than a generation ago that vilified marijuana as a gateway substance (relatively innocuous in and of itself but liable to open the door to hard drug addiction), new data reveals that, if anything, cannabis can act more like an “exit drug.” In other words, it can serve as a stepping-down mechanism for individuals in the process of quitting substances like meth, cocaine, and opioids (all of which are currently classified as less harmful than marijuana).
Trump administration didn’t classify it that way, but there are concerns about enforcement
Of course, marijuana was also categorized as Schedule I under the Obama administration as well — it has sat there since the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA), despite unfruitful discussions about the necessity of exploring re-classification. What might feel different now is Sessions’ unwavering, emphatic personal distaste for any and all forms of marijuana use, a disgust that he appears unwilling to put aside so that the legalization climate can continue to proliferate.
This has many in the legal cannabis world concerned as they ask whether an unapologetic opponent — seemingly unwilling to acknowledge the science behind medical cannabis’ successes — in arguably the most powerful enforcement position can usher in a sea change that would roll the climate back.
Sessions wants to keep cannabis out of “every corner store”
In a speech Sessions gave to federal, state and local law enforcement in March, he offered the just say no approach to the country’s addiction problems: “preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place.”
He went on to say: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”
Like the Schedule I group itself, Sessions fails to meaningfully differentiate marijuana from those life-destroying drugs he references, even as the nation’s opioid epidemic rages, and even as there is a wealth of data demonstrating that cannabis can be an effective treatment for pain — and without the highly addictive qualities of opioids, cannabis can be a sensible alternative.
Will it continue to be business as usual in cannabis-legal states?
The underlying concern here is that the Trump administration will break from the Obama administration in this matter (as seems to be the trend on a wide array of issues). The previous administration’s policy was to let the states that had legalized marijuana use regulate it within the state’s borders. Therefore, the prevailing policy was that the DOJ and DEA would not devote resources in going after businesses and individuals abiding by their state laws … even though marijuana remained illegal at the federal level.
The Quixotic lawsuit that argues that “classifying cannabis as a ‘Schedule I drug’ is so irrational that it violates the U.S. Constitution” is not likely to result in a kinder, gentler classification for cannabis, nor will it likely endear the substance to Sessions. However, it is likely to add new channels for discussing an issue that’s not going anywhere.
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