National cannabis legalization lawsuit thrown out by judge

A lawsuit against the federal government on which several cannabis legalization advocates had pinned their hopes has officially lost.

At least its first legal battle, anyway.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled Tuesday that the plaintiffs had “failed to exhaust their administrative remedies” and granted a motion by the U.S. Justice Department to dismiss the case.

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The suit argued that the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is unconstitutional and asked that marijuana be removed from the schedule of controlled narcotics.

A victory would have effectively legalized marijuana on a national level by “de-scheduling” the plant.

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Attorneys for the plaintiffs – a group ranging from a retired NFL player to a young epileptic girl – promised to appeal the ruling.

They also said they “remain confident” the suit will ultimately result in the removal of marijuana from the list of controlled substances.

In his ruling, Hellerstein wrote:

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“Although plaintiffs couch their claim in constitutional language, they seek the same relief as would be available in an administrative forum – a change in marijuana’s scheduling classification – based on the same factors that guide the (Drug Enforcement Administration’s) reclassification determination.”

However, the judge emphasized that his ruling should not be taken as a defense of cannabis being a Schedule I narcotic and noted that medical marijuana has “quite literally” saved the lives of at least two of the plaintiffs.

“This decision should not be understood as a factual finding that marijuana lacks any medical use … the authority to make that determination is vested in the administrative process,” he wrote.

Hellerstein also rejected the lawsuit’s claim that the plaintiffs had a constitutional right to use medical cannabis.

“No such fundamental right exists,” he wrote.

“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.”

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