While Federal Judge Hellerstein may be sympathetic to Alexis Bortell and Jose Belen, sympathy is not really what our court systems are for. The long wait for the federal case that made national headlines and sought to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance came to a very early end today with the judge throwing the case out and telling the Plaintiffs that this is an issue that needs to be brought before the DEA.
However, Federal Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein dismissed the lawsuit on Monday afternoon, with Hellerstein noting in his decision that the basis of the ruling was “not on the merits of plaintiffs’ claim[s],” including the primary argument that marijuana has legitimate medical benefits and should therefore be declassified as a Schedule 1 substance. Instead, the judge decided that the plaintiffs should have to first petition the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)—which, along with the FDA, oversees the classification and scheduling of illegal drugs—to get marijuana removed from the list of dangerous substances.
Of course, convincing the DEA to declassify marijuana is easier than it sounds. Multiple petitions to do just that have failed in recent years, including in 2016. That’s despite the fact that polls show a majority of Americans now believe the drug should be legal, and 29 states have already legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use. While the DEA has said that it remains unconvinced of cannabis’ medical applications, the federal agency did narrowly expand legal research in the potential medical uses of marijuana, though proponents of legalization argue that declassification would allow for a much greater expansion in legal research.
Many attempts have been made to reschedule or deschedule marijuana entirely from the banned substance list. All of them came up way short. Turning to petition the DEA to remove marijuana from the banned substance list is likely a futile endeavor, especially considering this particular case looked to circumvent the DEA due to how closed off the DEA is to the discussion.
The battle will continue though with far reaching influences such as financial leverage and soft power in advocate’s pockets unlike it has ever been in the past. Are you surprised that the judge threw the case out?