A coalition of cannabis businesses, represented by a prominent law firm, has initiated a long-awaited legal action against the U.S. attorney general. Their goal is to prevent the federal government from enforcing cannabis prohibition in states where it’s been legalized. These companies argue that maintaining prohibition in state-regulated markets is unconstitutional, endangering public safety and preventing licensed cannabis businesses from accessing essential financial services and tax benefits available to other industries.

The lawsuit was formally filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Western Division. It was brought forward by Verano Holdings Corp., a multi-state operator, alongside Massachusetts-based cannabis companies, Canna Provisions and Wiseacre Farm, and Treevit CEO Gyasi Sellers. Notably, Ascend Wellness Holdings, TerrAscend, Green Thumb Industries, Eminence Capital, and Poseidon Investment Management are “foundational supporters” of this legal challenge.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the law firms Boies Schiller Flexner and Lesser, Newman, Aleo & Nasser LLP. David Boies, the chairman of the former firm, has represented clients such as the Justice Department, former Vice President Al Gore, and parties involved in the case that led to the overturning of California’s same-sex marriage ban.

The lawsuit contends that while Congress originally implemented a cannabis ban through the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to curb interstate commerce, which ostensibly gave the federal government a legal basis to enforce prohibition at the state level, lawmakers and the executive branch have since abandoned that mission as more states have embraced cannabis legalization.

The complaint argues, “Despite these changes, the federal criminal prohibition on intrastate cannabis remains in place, an unjustified vestige of a long-abandoned policy. This unjustified intrusion of federal power harms Plaintiffs, threatens the communities they serve, and lacks any rational purpose.”

The lawsuit highlights that even though the federal government has adopted a largely hands-off approach to cannabis in recent years, state-licensed cannabis businesses continue to face unique financial challenges. These include a lack of access to banking services, credit cards, and federal tax deductions, specifically under IRS code 280E. Because of these limitations, state-regulated cannabis businesses are forced to rely heavily on cash, leading to significant public safety risks and making them targets for robberies.

The lawsuit further argues that the existing federal ban on cannabis, as outlined in the CSA, constitutes an unconstitutional encroachment on state sovereignty. It contends that Congress has the authority to regulate cannabis in interstate commerce but lacks the constitutional power to regulate it when it’s grown, transported, and distributed intrastate.

The lawsuit delves into the history of cannabis laws in the United States, highlighting that prohibition is a relatively recent policy shift following over a century of legal use and cultivation to some extent. It also points out that the original justification for banning cannabis under the CSA, aimed at preventing interstate commerce, no longer applies.

The legal action is taking place as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reviews cannabis scheduling following a recommendation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA. While rescheduling could address certain tax-related issues for the industry, it wouldn’t fully legalize cannabis or permit intrastate commerce.

This lawsuit is significant for the cannabis industry, particularly for smaller businesses that have suffered from the unequal treatment and financial burdens caused by the federal government’s policies. The plaintiffs hope to set a new precedent that will allow states to regulate and support cannabis businesses under their own guidelines. The legal battle is expected to proceed, with the possibility of reaching the Supreme Court in the near future, potentially leading to a permanent change in how the federal government handles cannabis.

Source: Marijuana Moment


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