COURT CASE

Federal Judge to Rule on Whether Cannabis Belongs on Schedule 1

The Drug Enforcement Agency busted 7 men for growing cannabis on national forest land in California. Their defense: Cannabis shouldn’t be on Schedule 1 because it’s safe and medically beneficial. Instead of tossing out the defense the way so many other federal judges have, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller granted a hearing to review the federal ban on cannabis in light of what she describes as the “new scientific and medical information” about cannabis’s medical effectiveness for certain conditions.

Significance: As a matter of politics and policy, the argument that cannabis doesn’t belong on Schedule 1 of the U.S. Controlled Substances Act is a compelling one. But as a defense against federal criminal prosecution, it never works. For decades, judges have—perhaps rightfully—treated the debate over Schedule 1 as the domain of the legislature, not the courts. ‘Got a problem with the cannabis laws, take it to Congress,’ the judges have consistently held (most recently in Michigan; see U.S. v. Taylor, No. 1:14-cr-67, (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Mich, 2014)). But now for the first time in decades, the defense will get its day in federal court.

It’s easy to overstate the significance of a single federal court ruling. So even if Judge Mueller does end up questioning the validity of the current law, it will take an act of Congress or perhaps an executive act of the President to get cannabis off Schedule 1. The real headline is that any federal judge is willing to hold such a hearing at all.

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