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Breaking down ACLU of Nevada’s lawsuit to remove cannabis as a Schedule I drug

A clear jar containing cannabis rests on a white platform in front of a partially visible sign that reads "A New Leaf."
Lucia Starbuck
/
Reynolds Media Lab
Cannabis for sale at SoL Cannabis in Washoe City, Nev. in November 2018.

A hearing is scheduled on May 23 for the ACLU of Nevada’s lawsuit against the State Board of Pharmacy to remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance. KUNR’s Lucia Starbuck spoke with the lead attorney on the case, Sadmira Ramic, to learn more.

Lucia Starbuck: Can you provide an overview of the lawsuit the ACLU has filed against the Nevada State Board of Pharmacy?

Sadmira Ramic: From a legal perspective, the reason we’re suing them is because they have failed to remove cannabis from its list of Schedule I substances, even though we have legalized cannabis here, both recreationally and medically. We’re asking the court to do two things. One is to find that the scheduling of cannabis as a Schedule I substance is unconstitutional, and then two, to order the Board of Pharmacy to remove cannabis as a Schedule I substance.

Starbuck: What does it mean when a substance is listed as a Schedule I drug?

Ramic: So, before cannabis was legalized, the legislature granted the Board of Pharmacy the authority to schedule substances, so what it does is gives the board a power to look at a substance and determine one, does this need to go on the list? And if so, does it need to be listed as a Schedule I, II, III, IV, V? For Schedule I substance, the board has to find that, one, it has a high potential for abuse, and that it has no medical value or that it can’t be distributed safely. So, for cannabis, heroin, meth, all those drugs that are currently Schedule I substances, they have to make that finding.

Starbuck: What is the Nevada Constitution say about cannabis and do those two align?

Ramic: So, that’s the exact argument here is that they are contradictory, so the board’s findings are contradicting the constitution; it is unconstitutional. So when cannabis was legalized medically, it was done through a ballot referendum, and that means that the people voted on it, and it led to the Nevada Constitution being amended. The Nevada voters thought that it was so important for cannabis to be treated like alcohol, to recognize that it does have medical value, that it has the availability for people who have illnesses as treatment that we enshrined it in our constitution, so that goes completely against what the board has defined, and that doesn’t have any medical value, and it cannot be safely distributed. And prosecutors and police officers are taking advantage of this loophole to charge individuals with possessing cannabis.

Starbuck: Do you know how many people have been arrested and convicted for cannabis since it since marijuana became legalized recreationally?

Ramic: I don’t have the statistics on how many people have been arrested and prosecuted. That is something that we are working on possibly getting. One, we do know that it’s happening, because from our experiences, one of my colleagues who is also an attorney on this case, he was a public defender, and he was able to see how individuals, his clients, were being charged even after it was legalized.

One of the other reasons that it’s been a little bit difficult in being able to gather that information, if we look at the way this is being charged, so currently, there are certain laws that reference the board scheduling, when they criminalize certain behaviors. So you have, for example, possession for sale, Schedule I substance, and that charge doesn’t differentiate between meth, heroin, cannabis; they don’t specify which drug it is. So it’s hard to gather data on that.

Starbuck: What are some of the consequences if you are charged with possession of a Schedule I substance?

Ramic: Well, it is a felony. You have that on your record, you’re dealing with the consequences of a felony. That can mean having less access to housing assistance, being able to get grants for school, for job applications. You know, employers look at what your record is, and having a felony on your record can impact your ability to obtain a job, so you have those collateral consequences.

Starbuck: Can you talk more about the person that you’re representing in this case?

Ramic: We’re representing two people: CEIC is an organization we’re representing; it's Cannabis Equity and Inclusion Community. They advocate on behalf of underrepresented individuals and help them partake in the cannabis marketplace here in Nevada. Antoine Poole is our individual plaintiff, and he was charged with possession of a controlled substance. It has impacted him as an individual, and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s wrong for individuals to be treated this way. It’s wrong for them to abuse this loophole, and I think it needs to be closed and that’s why we have filed this lawsuit.

Starbuck: The plaintiff Poole was arrested for possession roughly six months before recreational cannabis became legalized, but he was sentenced several months after it was legalized recreationally, which Ramic argues goes against the state constitution.

The State Board of Pharmacy did not respond to KUNR’s request for comment, and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office declined to comment due to pending litigation.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

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