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Court dismisses lawsuit challenging federal marijuana laws

The cannabis companies that filed the case are represented by the high-power law firm of David Boies and plan to appeal.



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The U.S. District Court of Massachusetts dismissed a case challenging marijuana’s federal illegality on Monday, rejecting arguments made by cannabis companies against prohibition.


U.S. District Judge Mark Mastroianni, an Obama appointee, ruled that the plaintiffs have standing to sue, but in dismissing the lawsuit his order applied the same analysis that the Supreme Court did when it last addressed the issue in 2005 in Gonzales v. Raich.


“Only the Supreme Court can overrule its own decisions and lower courts must apply a precedent with direct application, even if there is a basis for believing the precedent has been undermined by later developments,” the order read.


The Massachusetts marijuana companies — represented by the powerhouse law firm of David Boies — had argued that the facts around marijuana have changed since the Supreme Court ruled on the issue.


The companies plan to appeal the ruling.


The details:


While attorneys for the Justice Department challenged the marijuana companies’ standing, the court ruled that the plaintiffs in the case had grounds to sue due to the threat of federal enforcement.


“The court … finds Plaintiffs have shown there is a causal connection between their economic injuries and the CSA,” the order read.


But the court ruled in favor of the federal government when it came to the commerce clause and due process. In Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that even state-legal medical marijuana cultivation was subject to the commerce clause because of its potential impact on the interstate commerce of cannabis.


“This court must apply the same analytic framework in this case because Plaintiffs’ Commerce Clause claim is legally identical to the claim in Raich,” the order read.

The court also found that there is no precedent establishing a fundamental right to cultivate cannabis in the U.S.


“In the absence of a fundamental right to engage in the cultivation, processing, and distribution of marijuana, Plaintiffs cannot prevail on their substantive due process claim,” the order read.


More context:


While plenty of pro-marijuana advocates have attempted to challenge marijuana’s federal illegality over the years, this case is notable because the plaintiffs are being represented by the law firm of Boies, best known for his successful antitrust litigation breaking up Microsoft.


Josh Schiller, partner at Boies Schiller Flexner and one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said that the ruling was fair even though their constitutional arguments were rejected by the court.


“I’m pleased with substance of it because the court finally said we had standing,” Schiller said in an interview.


The timing of the order was “serendipitous,” he said, because of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Chevron deference, a legal doctrine that protected federal regulations from lawsuits. That ruling could imperil efforts by the Biden administration to loosen federal marijuana restrictions, making the Canna Provisions case all the more important to state cannabis actors, Schiller explained.


What’s next:


Attorneys for the plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Whether that court decides to hear the case itself or punts it to the Supreme Court — “either outcome would be fine with us,” Schiller said

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