Update: Federal Judge Reserves Decision After Hearing Arguments In Washington, et.al v. Sessions

Today, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York heard oral arguments on the motion to dismiss Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. The federal government argued to have the case dismissed. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York reserved the decision.

The lead attorney for the case, Michael Hiller released the following statement:

First, we would like to thank Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein for taking the time to hear the important oral argument made today. We appreciate the time he took to hear from the plaintiffs we represent —  all whom have heartbreaking stories about how their everyday lives continue to be negatively impacted by the prohibition of cannabis.  


Protecting our American values, way of life and civil and constitutional rights are who we are as Americans. To many, it is obvious, we are living in an era where we must remain vigilant and ask hard questions. If we look back at our collective history, this is not the first time we have seen some in the US government shamefully argue out-dated ideologies under a legal mask that is inevitably on the wrong side of history. We saw this with slavery, segregation, women’s right to vote, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, gay marriage, and sadly, countless other times.  


We’ve seen civil rights trampled on before, but we have also seen everyday Americans and leaders rise to the occasion and have our judicial branch recognize when an interpretation of the law is obviously tragically flawed and wrong.  


The stated basis for the Controlled Substances Act was to help Americans’ lives. However, today, the federal government came to court to preserve the right to put Americans in jail, who use cannabis — even when it used as an alternative medicinal treatment to addictive opioids and powerful prescription drugs. Tragically, what the federal government has done is taken the Controlled Substances Act and turned it on its head. Sadly, the government is now using the ‘Act’ to hurt and oppress US citizens, rather to liberate, deliberate and help them treat their illnesses and diseases.  


We firmly believe the federal government is prostituting and perverting the Controlled Substances Act as well as blatantly criminalizing behavior that they themselves are inducing. We look forward to standing on the right side of history and ensuring that cannabis is descheduled once and for all as well as to receiving Judge Hellerstein’s decision, and moving the case forward.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case include Michael Hiller and Lauren Rudick of Hiller, PC, NORML Legal Committee member Joseph Bondy, and Empire State NORML Director David Holland.

A judge for the Federal District Court in Sacramento heard similar arguments in a 2014 legal challenge, also spearheaded by members of the NORML Legal Committee, but ultimately rejected them – opining: “At some point in time, a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional. But this is not the court and not the time.”

Plaintiffs in the current lawsuit include a former NFL football player, a disabled military veterans, two children with severe movement disorders, and the non-profit group, the Cannabis Cultural Association. Plaintiffs argue that federal prohibition violates their civil and constitutional liberties, including their right to freely travel within the United States. They also argue that the federal prohibition of cannabis is “grounded in discrimination and [is] applied in a discriminatory manner.”

Lawyers for the Justice Department argued today for a dismissal of the suit, opining: “There is no fundamental right to use marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise. Because such a right is not ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty’ or ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history,’ the Court should reject such a claim.”


February 2018
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