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Pot Still as Bad as Heroin, Remains Schedule I Drug, Court Rules

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 17, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Marijuana will remain on the federal list of Schedule I drugs, next to heroin and LSD. After a five day evidentiary trial, the District Court for the Eastern District of California denied a motion to dismiss an indictment involving marijuana growing, which challenged the classification was unconstitutional.

Under the Controlled Substances Act, Schedule I drugs are those which have a high potential of abuse and "no currently accepted medical use." Defense lawyers for 16 men accused of growing marijuana challenged the listing of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, arguing that it violated the Tenth Amendment's limitations on federal power. Marijuana is legal for medical use in 23 states.

No Currently Accepted Medical Use

The inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule I drug is more "Reefer Madness" than medical science, lawyers had argued. The objections to the indictments alleged that the inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule I drug was arbitrary and unconstitutional, given its permissible medical use in almost half the country. The Tenth Amendment, defense lawyers argued, prevented the federal government from operating counter to state laws legalizing medical marijuana. The argument did not work, however -- as Tenth Amendment arguments rarely do.

In refusing the strike down the indictments, Judge Kimberly Mueller found that the decision to change drug scheduling was "better left to Congress," according to The New York Times. The government stressed that there is a separate administrative procedure available to challenge drug scheduling. A written opinion from Judge Mueller is expected to be released in the future. In the meantime, she will continue to oversee the men's prosecution.

Trapped in the Middle

As marijuana legalization progresses, many people involved in the marijuana industry are trapped in a legal gray area. While they may be obeying state law, they could still face prosecution under conflicting federal drug laws. Though future prosecution will depend on how the Department of Justice and courts interpret an appropriations rider that barred the DOJ from spending any money to prevent implementation of state medical marijuana laws. The DOJ says that the provision doesn't preclude criminal prosecutions -- a question that is currently before the Ninth Circuit.

If Judge Mueller's ruling is any indication, advocates for state-legalized marijuana may not see the courts taking up their cause.

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