NORTHAMPTON – A coalition of cannabis businesses is suing the U.S. Attorney General for banning the cultivation, manufacture, possession and distribution of pot, saying it would punish legal activity under state law.
A federal ban means marijuana businesses operating in Massachusetts and other states can’t use banks or accept credit card payments, and they and their employees may be locked out of federal programs and unable to get loans.
“This is very important,” Northampton attorney Thomas Lesser said of the lawsuit. “Everybody expects it to end with the Supreme Court.”
Lesser’s firm, Lesser, Newman, Aleo & Nasser, represented New York general counsel Boyce Schiller Flexner on behalf of plaintiffs Gyasi Sellers, Canna Provisions and Wiseacre Farm in the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts against Attorney General Merrick Garland. . Sellers is the founder and CEO of Treevit, a cannabis delivery service. Canna Provisions operates two dispensaries, one in Holyoke and one in Berkshire County, and Wiseacre Farm is the Berkshire County grower.
“We want to be treated equally with any small business in Massachusetts,” Meg Sander, CEO and co-founder of Canna Provisions, said in a statement.
The fourth plaintiff, Verano Holdings, does business in Massachusetts.
Boyce Schiller’s principal, David Boye, is best known for three major reasons for leading the federal government’s successful prosecution of Microsoft in the late 1990s. Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore’s unsuccessful representation in Bush v. Gore; and to represent a plaintiff in a lawsuit overturning California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit seeks to assert the rights of Massachusetts and other states to regulate cannabis within their borders and to enforce corresponding restrictions on the federal government’s power to regulate commercial activity.
The law at issue is the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the production, distribution, and possession of marijuana, regardless of whether these activities take place across state lines or within a single state.
“This unfair and unconstitutional prohibition of intrastate cannabis harms defendants and hinders states’ efforts to provide patients and adults with access to strictly controlled and tested cannabis,” the lawsuit said.
Advocates have argued that the Controlled Substances Act of 2018, which supports cannabis bans,
“Today, 38 states, including Washington, DC, have unregulated medical or adult-use cannabis programs,” state plaintiffs said.
They say that controlled cannabis products can be traced back to the seeds they were originally grown on and can be easily distinguished from illegal interstate cannabis.
State-controlled cannabis businesses are considered illegal under the Controlled Substances Act and their day-to-day operations are considered federal crimes. They are cut off from many federal programs and protections, including small business loans that protect them from discriminatory tax penalties, and firms such as banks and credit card processors refuse to do business with them.
“It’s a cash industry,” Laser said. “It’s dangerous. It’s not good for anyone.”
People who work for cannabis companies can’t get loans and can’t get into federal housing, Lester added.
“Their options are very limited,” he said.
The suit calls for the Controlled Substances Act to be declared “unconstitutional as it applies to the cultivation, manufacture, possession, and distribution of marijuana under state law.” and prohibiting the government from enforcing laws that interfere with any production or distribution of cannabis under state law.