Recently, a federal judge from California passed on a chance that could have made history cannabis legislation.
Judge Kimberly J. Mueller of the United States District Court in Sacramento was presiding over the case US v Schweder et al, a drug charge case that involves 16 defendants who are accused of conspiring to grow at least a thousand marijuana plants as a part of an illegal outdoor grow operation on land in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest located in a remote section of Northern California. The defendants were also charged with conspiring to traffic a large quantity of a Schedule I substance; in this case, marijuana.
Out of the 16 original defendants, seven ended up settling their cases and are no longer involved in the trial. This left the remaining nine to sit before Judge Mueller to face trial.
Although this may seem to be nothing more than marijuana traffickers being busted for illegal activities, this case is historic because it’s the first time that a federal judge has granted extended hearings in the federal court in order to determine whether or not the DEA’s listing of cannabis as a Schedule I drug is constitutional.
The defense lawyers in the case argued on the grounds that cannabis doesn’t actually qualify as a Schedule I drug and that keeping it under that classification was “arbitrary and unconstitutional.” The defense lawyers, Zenia Gilg and Heather Burke of the NORML Legal Committee, continued their argument by claiming that the 10th Amendment actually prevented the federal government from acting in any superseding way over state’s laws that specifically allow for cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes.
The prosecution, on the other hand, claimed that since marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, anyone caught involved in illegal activities regarding the substance should be charged as such. Simply because the drug could possibly be considered for rescheduling doesn’t change the fact that it is currently illegal under federal law.
This is actually the second time that Judge Mueller has delayed the hearing of this particular case, in order to correctly determine the outcome of the trial. They were originally supposed to meet in late May in order to have a status hearing over the decision of the case, yet Mueller decided to push the hearing back to April 15 in order to better determine the direction in which she wanted to take the ruling of the case.
When the delayed date arrived, the court met for a brief 15 minutes in order for Judge Mueller to issue her oral ruling on the outcome of the case. And despite the fact that Mueller admitted during a previous brief court hearing that she was initially prepared to rule in the favor of the defendants and claim that cannabis’ Schedule I status was, in fact, unconstitutional, she reversed this decision and ruled in favor of the prosecutors.
“It has been 45 years since Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act,” Mueller explained. She went on to state that since then “the landscape has changed,” meaning that new things should be taken into consideration when ruling on cases such as this.
This ruling came as a large disappointment to advocates for marijuana legislation reform, especially those fighting for the removal of marijuana from the DEA’s banned substances list.
Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML, said that if Judge Mueller had decided to rule against marijuana’s current classification it “would have been significant because you would have had a federal judge acknowledge what a majority of the public has already concluded: That marijuana does not meet the three criteria of a Schedule I drug.”
During the brief hearing, Judge Mueller said that: “At some point in time a court may decide this status to be unconstitutional. But this is not the court and not the time.”
Despite this, the fight doesn’t seem to be over just yet. In fact, many people involved in the case are already expecting it to be appealed and move on to the appellate court in California. In fact, even the prosecution seems to understand that this may be a big step for the future of cannabis legislation on a federal level.
Benjamin B. Wagner, a U.S. Attorney that is currently a part of the case on the side of the prosecution, said that, “We are pleased with the court’s ruling today. The question presented in this motion was not whether marijuana should be legalized for medical or recreational use, but whether decisions concerning the status of marijuana under federal law should properly be made in accordance with the science-based scheduling process set forth in the Controlled Substances Act passed by Congress.”
Should marijuana be classified as a Schedule I drug? Let us know what you think in the comments below.