Pot advocate John Sinclair sues state over Schedule 1 status

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Longtime marijuana advocate John Sinclair during the annual Hash Bash on the University of Michigan Diag on April 1 2018, in Ann Arbor.

Longtime marijuana advocate John Sinclair and others are suing the state of Michigan to declassify the drug as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.

In the lawsuit served this week to the Michigan Board of Pharmacy and its chairwoman, Nichole Cover, the plaintiffs claim the current law that issues medical marijuana cards to patients and licenses dispensaries is contradictory to the state's Controlled Substance Act that classifies the drug as contraband. Because of that, they say its status violates their due process and equal protection rights and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.

"It’s not a Schedule 1 drug," Sinclair told The Detroit News. "It’s been legalized by the citizens and approved by the state. There are thousands that take it and licenses to sell marijuana. That’s why it needs to be corrected in my opinion."

A Schedule 1 classification refers to substances that have no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. It includes drugs such as heroin and ecstasy. The Michigan Board of Pharmacy determines the scheduling.

The U.S. government also categorizes it as a Schedule 1 drug, a status that Sinclair's lawyer, Matthew Abel of Detroit-based law firm Cannabis Counsel, said hopes will change as a result of this lawsuit and other efforts.

David Harns, communications manager for the Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department, said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit focus on the 2016 Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act in which the state legislature granted the state permission to license marijuana businesses. The state Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Department's Medical Marihuana Licensing Board began issuing licenses for businesses to grow, process, transport and sell medical marijuana last spring.

As a result, the plaintiffs that include medical patient Josey Scoggin, physician Dr. Christian Bogner, pharmacist Paul Littler, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws of Michigan Inc. and the Michigan Medical Marijuana Association claim marijuana's Schedule 1 listing is repealed by implication.

"We’re talking out of both sides of our mouth," Abel said. "On the one hand, we're licensing to patients for medical use, and on the other, we’re saying it has no medical use."

Additionally, law enforcement can stop, search, arrest and force the forfeiture of liberty and property of those with medical cards because the presence or indication of marijuana such as its smell can constitute as probable cause, according to the lawsuit.

Health care providers attempted to take away Scoggin's daughter after giving birth in spite of her medical marijuana patient card, the lawsuit said.

Instances like these are the biggest concern for Sinclair, the poet whose incarceration on marijuana-related charges in the 1960s formed a national movement that attracted the attention of Stevie Wonder, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and more.

"If they decided to use this and enforce it, the history is that the police will use any excuse and incriminate people and put them in prison, on probation, take their money, and take their house," Sinclair said. "This is what they do with our laws. This is why the laws have to be completely amended so they can’t do this anymore. Period. Case closed."