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DeKalb family in court challenge to federal marijuana ban

Fulton County's Board of Commissioners has called on the State of Georgia and local governments to drecriminalize the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Credit: Carlos Garcia via Flickr

By Maggie Lee

The federal government considers marijuana as useless and dangerous as heroin and there hasn’t been much congressional interest in reconsidering that. But a group of medical marijuana entrepreneurs and advocates, including a DeKalb family, are telling a federal court that Congress is seriously misguided.

“We have proof after proof that it shouldn’t be a Schedule I substance,” said Sebastien Cotte, a Stone Mountain dad who gives his son Jagger, 6, a liquid made from cannabis to alleviate the pain of Leigh’s disease. That’s a rare neurological disorder that generally causes death in two to three years.

Cotte is among the medical marijuana activists who say the drug is therapeutic. But the federal government bans it as a “Schedule I” drug: those with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. The list also includes heroin, LSD and ecstasy.

The lawsuit argues that the cannabis classification is wrong on several grounds and is “so irrational as a matter of law that it cannot be said to be rationally related to any legitimate government purpose.”

The lawsuit also says that the classification is unfair because it has been used to harass, intimidate and incarcerate African-Americans in disproportionate numbers over the years.

A cannabis plant. Credit: Manuel via Flickr/Creative Commons.

And it alleges that the patchwork of state laws and the federal ban violate a right to travel — because people who may have state-legal medical cannabis risk arrest if they bring it through airports, federal lands or other states.

State laws that have made places like Colorado famous for recreational or medical weed are in conflict with the federal ban.

Georgia’s modest medical cannabis law conflicts with federal law too. Georgia allows possession of some liquid medical cannabis formulas for folks who have one of 15 conditions and who sign up to the state’s medical marijuana registry. But Georgia doesn’t allow the cultivation of medical marijuana or the manufacture or sale of any of it.

So Georgians like Cotte resort to runs to other states, shippers, friends in Facebook groups, even a Republican state lawmaker who helps supply some folks — and it’s all illegal.

“I think what we’ve been doing, especially in Georgia, for the past four years now, is not working,” said Cotte, who is among the most active parents or patients who regularly lobby at the state Capitol in Atlanta to broaden Georgia’s medical marijuana law.

“Every time we try to push for it in Georgia, it’s the always same thing: ‘It’s a Schedule I substance, the federal government will come after us, we don’t want to mess with it,'” said Cotte.

So he, and others, are pushing against the top law of the land.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York on Monday. The named defendants are U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Director of the Drug Enforcement Agency Chuck Rosenberg, the U.S. Department of Justice and the United States.

The other plaintiffs are:

  • Retired NFL player-turned-cannabis entrepreneur Marvin Washington of Texas.
  • Dean Bortell, on behalf of his daughter Alexis Bortell, a Texas girl who uses cannabis to control seizures.
  • Jose Belen, a Florida veteran of the U.S. Army, who uses cannabis to treat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Cannabis Cultural Association, Inc., a New York nonprofit that was founded to provide a voice and forum for persons of color to develop a presence in the cannabis industry.


Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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