Rural Colorado girl at the center of a lawsuit on federal restrictions on medical marijuana

Author: Tom Ramstack - August 12, 2017 - Updated: August 18, 2017


A new lawsuit has cast an epileptic 11-year-old girl living in rural Colorado into the heart of a nationwide dispute over medical marijuana.

The lawsuit filed by the attorney of Alexis Bortell seeks to force the federal government to change its Schedule One classification of marijuana.

“What we hope to accomplish from the lawsuit is simple,” said Susan M. Fauls, chief of staff for the law firm suing the federal government on behalf of Alexis and four other plaintiffs. “A permanent injunction restraining the federal government from enforcing the [Controlled Substances Act] as it pertains to cannabis.”

The classification as a Schedule One drug prevents most efforts by Alexis to travel outside Colorado with the cannabis oil that prevents her seizures. Cannabis is the active ingredient in marijuana.

Schedule One of the Controlled Substances Act refers to drugs with a high potential for abuse that have no medical use accepted by the healthcare industry. Transporting marijuana is illegal outside the District of Columbia and 25 states that have legalized at least limited use of it.

However, without the cannabis oil she swallows through a dropper, Alexis would suffer debilitating seizures.

As her seizures became more severe and frequent, her parents moved their family from North Texas — where marijuana is illegal — to Colorado. Alexis has been free of seizures for nearly 2½ years, ever since she started the cannabis oil treatments in Colorado.

She is living with her parents on a farm in Colorado, but her family does not want to disclose the location to protect their privacy.

Her attorney, Michael Hiller, argues that Congress misclassified marijuana as a Schedule One drug in 1970 largely out of ignorance about its medicinal qualities.

“There are people all over the United States for whom cannabis is a cure for their disease and they can’t use it unless they violate the Controlled Substances Act,” Hiller told Colorado Politics.

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana only partially resolves problems created by the federal law for Alexis and other persons who need it as a medicine.

They still are prohibited from traveling with their marijuana products on commercial airlines or from entering national parks, the U.S. Capitol and other federal property.

“She can’t go anyplace outside of Colorado unless she goes by car and she has to return to Colorado by night because she has to take her medication,” Hiller said.

He wants the U.S. District Court in New York to declare parts of the Controlled Substances Act that make marijuana a Schedule One drug unconstitutional, thereby freeing up its medicinal use nationwide.

Lawmakers who outlawed it associated marijuana with “hippes” and “minorities,” says the lawsuit filed against the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“This lawsuit stands to benefit tens of millions of Americans who require, but are unable to safely obtain, Cannabis for the treatment of their illnesses, diseases and medical conditions, the successful treatment of which is dependent upon its curative properties,” the lawsuit filed July 24 in federal court says. “In addition, this lawsuit, if successful, would aid in the restoration of communities hardest hit and most egregiously stigmatized by the federal government’s misguided and Crusades-like ‘War on Drugs.’”

It argues that the federal government has overstepped its authority to regulate commerce under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution by the Schedule One classification. The lawsuit also says the Controlled Substances Act’s ban on transporting marijuana across state lines violates the Constitution’s “Right to Travel.”

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit who say they need medical marijuana include a small child, a military veteran and a retired professional football player. An advocacy group called the Cannabis Cultural Association also is named as a plaintiff.

They and other persons were referred to Hiller by a documentary filmmaker who was making a movie about people who need medicinal marijuana.

The Drug Enforcement Administration considered softening its resistance to marijuana after hearings in Congress but one year ago announced it would keep the Schedule One classification.

Two bills have been introduced in Congress this year to downgrade the Schedule One classification. They have not yet passed.

In May, the American Legion petitioned the White House for a meeting to discuss reclassifying marijuana to allow broader use for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tom Ramstack

Tom Ramstack