The Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging the legality of federal marijuana prohibition.

Plaintiffs in the case include former NFL player Marvin Washington and a 12-year-old girl who uses medical marijuana to treat epilepsy. They claim that the DEA improperly classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no medical benefits. The plaintiffs claim that the Schedule I status of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) violates due process because “it lacks a rational basis.” They also argued it creates serious health risks and unfair economic disadvantages.

A federal district court held that the plaintiffs had not exhausted all of their “administrative remedies.” In effect, the court found that the plaintiffs had to seek administrative relief through existing channels such as petitioning the DEA directly to reclassify cannabis.

“[P]laintiffs’ claim is an administrative one, not one premised on the constitution,” Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein wrote, and “is best understood as a collateral attack on the various administrative determinations not to reclassify marijuana into a different drug schedule.”

The judge also held that “Congress had a rational basis for classifying marijuana in Schedule I, and executive officials in different administrations have consistently retained its placement there… Even if marijuana has current medical uses, I cannot say that Congress acted irrationally in placing marijuana in Schedule I.”

An appellate court upheld the district court opinion, but left the door open for further action, saying, ““[W]e are troubled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s history of dilatory proceedings. Accordingly, while we concur with the District Court’s ruling, we do not dismiss the case, but rather hold it in abeyance and retain jurisdiction in this panel to take whatever action might become appropriate if the DEA does not act with adequate dispatch.”

With the Supreme Court rejecting the case, the appellate ruling will stand. In effect, while procedural concerns remain, the courts have rejected the constitutional arguments and it remains up to the DEA as to whether or not it will reschedule cannabis.

This once again highlights the futility of begging the federal courts to limit the power of the federal government and protect your rights. The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of marijuana prohibition in 2005 when it held in Gonzales v. Raich that the federal government has the authority to regulate six marijuana plants in a woman’s back yard. The ruling was clearly absurd, given that the federal government needed a constitutional amendment to establish alcohol prohibition. Nevertheless, it cemented marijuana prohibition into the constitutional framework. It was highly unlikely the High Court was ever going to strike down cannabis prohibition on constitutional grounds.

Nevertheless, the legalization of marijuana at the state level is unraveling prohibition even as courts argue legal minutia. The federal government simply doesn’t have the personnel or resources to maintain prohibition.

When states legalize marijuana, they remove one layer of law punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state, even though federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Instead of wasting time hoping federal courts will rein in the federal government, we are better served simply ending prohibition at the state and local level.

Mike Maharrey

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