As we approach the three year anniversary of Colorado and Washington’s grand experiment of legalizing recreational cannabis, the emerging consensus recognizing the failure of the war on drugs has never been more apparent. Record tax harvests and a massive reduction in dollars spent on drug enforcement has pleased fiscal hawks, and public health advocates in states with legal weed can celebrate their comparably low rates of opiate deaths. So who exactly would want to destroy this developing system that seems to be a net benefit to society? Well these idiots seem to be up for the challenge:
A federal law crafted to fight the mob is giving marijuana opponents a new strategy in their battle to stop the expanding industry: racketeering lawsuits.
A Colorado pot shop recently closed after a Washington-based group opposed to legal marijuana sued not just the pot shop but a laundry list of firms doing business with it — from its landlord and accountant to the Iowa bonding company guaranteeing its tax payments. One by one, many of the plaintiffs agreed to stop doing business with Medical Marijuana of the Rockies, until the mountain shop closed its doors and had to sell off its pot at fire-sale prices.
The coverage regarding these RICO actions focuses on the “novel”1 legal theory proposed by the plaintiffs. However these suits (and their proponents) are indistinguishable in their practice and reasoning from traditional prohibitionists who value property and profits over real public safety. The plaintiffs at the center of the controversy have been unable to articulate any legitimate or compensable damages, but instead are attempting to justify punitive legal actions against this dynamic industry on the basis of federal illegality alone. This is not a valid civil action; rather this is a blatant attempt to undermine growing popular support for legal cannabis by imposing baseless regulations through the courts.
As Boing Boing pointed out, the forces behind this new push to expand the reach of federal racketeering laws into a business that pose no risk to public health are not arguing in good faith. Rather, the attorneys behind this effort appear to have a vested political interest in establishing the sanctity of property rights and protecting the traditional pharmaceutical industry. For example, James Wootton, the chairman of the “Safe Streets Alliance” (which is spearheading these suits), is the former head of the US Chamber of Commerce’s legal policy wing. In that role he worked to pass laws that protected businesses from tort liability as well as initiatives that provoked the exponential expansion of the prison industrial complex in the 1990s. He is also on the board of the several other right wing AstroTurf groups including the “Access to Courts Initiative” (which seeks to clear court calendars by promoting corporate-friendly arbitration and mediation services), and the “Tomorrow’s Cure Today” Foundation (which promotes the creation of a “better regulatory environment” for the prescription drug industry).
Big Pharma and NIMBY neighborhood associations are longstanding enemies of legal weed for a variety of reasons. The former group is obviously concerned with the proliferation of a drug that could cut into the established pharmaceuticals like the extremely profitable legal opiate industry. The latter interest group represents the more familiar collection of racists and puritanical weirdos that still believe (despite all evidence to the contrary) that legal weed will lead to a drop in property values. And because these two groups are getting destroyed legislatively, they are finding creative uses in civil law to punish an industry that affects their profit margins.
As the Cannabist alluded to in their coverage of this issue, the cases have merely been filed and have yet to be addressed in court. However the threat of civil action has already forced one dispensary to close, and further coverage of this litigation method is sure to cause some anxiety in the industry at large. Wooten and others are attempting to instill a chilling effect on this rapidly growing segment of our national economy, and it’s therefore up to cannabis advocates (especially lawyers) to call out the lawyers in this action for pursuing this frivolous and hilariously transparent form of judicially enforced profit protection.
[Image via Shutterstock]
if you read “novel” to mean “nonsensical” ↩