The U.S. Supreme Court Has Refused to Hear Appellate Challenges to ‘Unconstitutional’ Federal Cannabis Prohibition

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear legal arguments in a lawsuit challenging cannabis’ federal status as ‘Schedule I Narcotic.’ 

By Roland T. Flackfizer

SCOTUS has declined to hear appeals on a 2nd Circuit refusal to determine the constitutionality of federal cannabis prohibition. Plaintiffs in the suit Washington v. Barr, initially filed in 2017, include NORML, former NFL football player and current cannabis business owner Marvin Washington, disabled military veterans, two children with severe movement disorders, and the non-profit group, the Cannabis Cultural Association.

The plaintiffs contend that the federal status of cannabis violates their civil and constitutional liberties as well as their freedom to travel within the United States. The group also argued that the federal prohibition on cannabis is “grounded in discrimination and [is] applied in a discriminatory manner.” According to NORML, “They further argued that current administrative mechanisms in place to allow for the reconsideration of cannabis’ Schedule I classification – such as the process that allows citizens to petition the US Drug Enforcement Administration – are “illusory” and therefore unlikely to ever be successful.”

A US District Court Judge initially rejected the plaintiff’s arguments in 2018, summarizing the decision saying: “No such fundamental right (to possess or use cannabis) exists. Every court to consider the specific, carefully framed right at issue here has held that there is no substantive due process right to use medical marijuana.” 

The group later appealed the case to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuitwhere it was similarly refused. NORML’s amicus brief — legal documents filed in appellate court cases argued that the federal scheduling of cannabis is “ unconstitutional because all three branches of government have promoted laws and policies in direct conflict with its Schedule I status. The Brief exposes a fundamental paradox — if cannabis is federally illegal for all purposes, and the three coordinate branches of the federal government have acted to allow for cannabis businesses, then the federal government is nullifying its own law,” explained the amicus brief.

NORML Legal Counsel Keith Stroup characterized the refusal to hear the appeals as unfortunate yet unsurprising: “This result is not altogether surprising. Courts have rarely provided relief to those of us who believe that marijuana prohibition violates our civil and Constitutional liberties. It is Congress that imposed the federal prohibition of marijuana and ultimately it is up to Congress to repeal this destructive and discriminatory policy.”


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