A federal appeals court recently upheld a constitutional challenge to marijuana’s listing as a Schedule l drug under the Controlled Substances Act, finding that Congress has a “conceivable basis” to saddle cannabis with the strictest restrictions under federal drug laws.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found late last month that while the inclusion of cannabis in Schedule l may seem “irrational” given the stated criteria under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Congress did not violate the U.S. Constitution with the legislation.
The case stems from the conviction of Alexander Green and Charles Green, two brothers who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic drugs and money laundering charges in a federal court in
“This wasn’t a rinky-dink drug operation,”
The Green brothers appealed their convictions on grounds that the Schedule I classification of marijuana violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. The defendants argued that the classification has no rational basis because the CSA requires Schedule I drugs to, among other criteria, have no accepted medical use.
Appeals Court Affirms Lower Court Ruling
Judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with the district court and rejected the argument presented by the defendants, writing in a
“The Act’s scheduling criteria are largely irrelevant to our constitutional review because the rational basis test asks only whether Congress could have any conceivable basis for including marijuana on the strictest schedule,” the judges wrote in their opinion. “Because there are other plausible considerations that could have motivated Congress’s scheduling of marijuana, we conclude that its classification does not violate the Green brothers’ due process or equal protection rights.”
The appeals court acknowledged that the defendants “convincingly argue that it is irrational for the government to maintain that marijuana has no accepted medical use.” However, the judges ruled that the argument alone is not enough for the court to find the Schedule l status of cannabis unconstitutional.
“As we have explained,” the judges concluded, the defendants in this case “must do more than show that the legislature’s stated assumptions are irrational; [they] must discredit any conceivable basis which could be advanced to support the challenged provision, regardless of whether that basis has a foundation in the record, or actually motivated the legislature.”
Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), commented on the decision from the appeals court in a
“This ruling is disappointing, but not unanticipated,” he said.
Armentano added that the decision is consistent with other federal court rulings that have declined to find the Schedule l status of cannabis unconstitutional, ruling that the rational basis review does not allow judges to override decisions made by Congress.
“Judges have repeatedly ruled that it is the responsibility of federal lawmakers, not the courts, to repeal the federal prohibition of marijuana,” said Armentano. “Rather than expect relief from the federal courts, citizens need to continue to pressure their federally elected officials to repeal this admittedly ‘irrational’ and destructive policy.”