A New Jersey appeals court has ruled that the state must reconsider marijuana’s legal classification because its health benefits are “abundant and glaringly apparent.”
The appellate court ruled Tuesday that the former director of the Division of Consumer Affairs was wrong when he said he must defer to the federal government, NJ.com reports. The medical benefits of cannabis weren’t known in 1971 when New Jersey first adopted the federal government’s Schedule I classification, which includes drugs like heroin and others that don’t have an “accepted medical use.”
The Attorney General's Office intends to appeal the decision.
According to the court, the state must reevaluate marijuana’s classification because cannabis is now legally used to treat a variety of ailments.
“What this decision does recognize is the widespread acceptance of marijuana use in medical treatment,” attorney Joseph Linares said, calling the decision “an important incremental step” toward reclassification. He said the change would reduce “inflated” prison terms for people like his client, who is serving a life sentence under the state’s “kingpin” statute.
The Attorney General’s Office, meanwhile, says it intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
While a number of legal actions over the decades have challenged the federal Schedule I categorization of cannabis, they’ve repeatedly fallen flat. In 2012, advocacy group Americans for Safe Access filed an appeal in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, arguing that the DEA’s Schedule I classification of cannabis was arbitrary and capricious, contradicted by available scientific evidence. Judges were unmoved, however and the appeal went nowhere.
A more recent lawsuit, however, still has a chance. In July, plaintiffs filed suit against US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice, and the Drug Enforcement Administration in an effort to forbid the federal government from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act as it pertains to cannabis.
“The Federal Government has admitted repeatedly in writing and implemented national policy reflecting that Cannabis does in fact, have medical uses and can be used and tested safely under medical supervision,” says the complaint, filed in the Southern District of New York.
“We are arguing that Congress enacted a statute that’s so irrational as to be unconstitutional,” Michael Hiller, one of the attorneys on the suit, told Leafly after it was filed.
Medical marijuana has been legal in New Jersey since 2010. Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, however, has repeatedly dismissed the health benefits of cannabis and in some cases sought to impede legalization. Politicians and activists alike are planning to make further reforms once he is termed out and leaves office in January.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.