This Court Case Could Be the Loophole to Cannabis Decriminalization
If cannabis gets descheduled in the imminent future, we’ll have an eight-year-old boy in part to thank. Jagger Cotte suffers from Leigh’s Disease, a neurological disorder causing respiratory failure, muscle paralysis, and reduced mental function. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t live past four, and yet, thanks to medical marijuana, he’s lived twice as long.
In a lawsuit challenging the federal government to deschedule marijuana, on the grounds that prohibition is unconstitutional, Jagger, represented by his father Sebastien, is fighting alongside fellow plaintiffs Jose Belen, a veteran and PTSD patient, Alexis Bortell, a 13-year-old girl suffering from epilepsy, Marvin Washington, a former pro football player and CBD entrepreneur, and the Cannabis Cultural Association, a nonprofit that helps people of color get involved in the cannabis space.
Pictured above: Jose Belen and Sebastien Cotte, Pictured here: Jagger Cotte
Their legal argument is quite simple, really: the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, infringes on the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
When Bortell, for instance, was invited by her elected officials to Washington D.C., she couldn’t go — because her life depends on medical marijuana (should she have a fatal seizure), and she is federally banned from traveling across state lines with her medicine. Cannabis prohibition inhibits Bortell and Cotte from traveling freely without risking their lives, keeps Bortell from exercising her free speech to lobby her representatives, and for all the plaintiffs, stands in the way of their ability to pursue healthy, happy lives, without violating federal law.
What’s more, their attorneys argue, the foundation of cannabis prohibition is bunk, altogether. While the CSA holds that cannabis has no accepted medical use (nevermind that more than half the country has legalized medical marijuana on the state level), the federal government itself holds a patent on cannabis for the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, HIV-induced dementia, and autoimmune disorders — and according to US patent law, a patent can be granted only if the utility of that which you’re seeking to patent is proven. Above and beyond the hypocrisy of the patent, the federal government has also been providing joints to 15 medical marijuana patients, who are part of an Investigational New Drug Program that’s found cannabis to, indeed, be effective in treating their conditions.
The CSA’s classification of cannabis is not only medically unsound, but based also in systemic racism. Cannabis prohibition didn’t happen because the plant was dangerous (since it’s not), but because Richard Nixon, father of the Drug War, wanted to criminalize hippies and people of color, by criminalizing the drugs Reefer Madness associated them with.
But the underlying issue, at this point in the case, isn’t whether the plaintiffs’ argument holds water — because it certainly and factually does — but rather, whether a lawsuit, rather than the legislative process, is the right method to go about descheduling cannabis.
“The government [the defendant in the lawsuit] pretty much makes the case that there is a legislative process, a process that could take six to nine years, and kids like Jagger do not have six to nine years to wait for the government to deschedule cannabis,” Sebastien Cotte told Civilized. “We’re focusing on an urgency to this for Alexis, Jagger, all the kids and patients who need cannabis in their lives.”
Attorney Joseph Bondy recounted to Civilized that the legal counsel had eight minutes to present an orgal argument. “The focus of our oral argument today was on life saving medicine, the right to utilize cannabis to save your life and have equal protection, substantive due process,” he said. “The government doesn’t [even] believe that marijuana has no medical value.”
In fact, plaintiff Jose Belen says that one of the most memorable parts of Wednesday’s hearing was when the judge said they could “take judicial notice on this, which basically means, ‘you don’t have to prove anything, we already know it,’ in regard to medical cannabis.” However, the plaintiffs don’t have the time to petition the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration, or to lobby their representatives to expedite the sluggish legislative process (as noted, some of the plaintiffs can’t even travel to do so).
Going forward, once the judges release their decision either in favor of the plaintiffs, or in favor of the government’s original motion to dismiss, the case will likely take one of two courses: If the decision favors the defendant, then the group of plaintiffs will appeal the decision, this time to the Supreme Court. And if the decision favors the plaintiffs, it’s likely the government will also appeal, and the case will still end up at the Supreme Court.
“I don’t see the federal government taking the risk of going to trial against us only to be humiliated and proven wrong,” said Belen. “We would love to settle the case and deschedule cannabis all in all without going through this mess, but for me, either way, it’s a win-win, regardless of the rulings and grand scheme of things because the message is out there. It’s too late for the government, and this is only one lawsuit. Doesn’t me we can’t do two, three, four, five, or six, so I think it’s just a matter of time.”