In the U.S., weed lives in an interesting legal place. It exists at the tension between federal laws—where it’s illegal—and state laws—where it’s becoming more and more legal. This tension creates a lot of problems, especially for weed businesses working to comply with state laws. Now, thanks to a recent court ruling, there’s a new challenge for these businesses. It turns out, anti-mafia racketeering laws could destroy legal weed.
An Important Court Ruling
Earlier this summer, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made what could become a landmark decision. The court heard a case in which the plaintiffs, Hope and Michael Reilly, complained about the smell of a legal weed business near their property in Colorado.
The Reillys complained that when the weed farm opened near their property, things got smelly. Beyond being annoying, they also said it was dragging down the value of their land.
This summer, the 10th Circuit Court agreed with the Reillys. In particular, the Court concluded that the farm was creating “noxious odors.” The decision also agreed with the Reillys’ claim that the smell of weed could drive down property values.
The lawsuit will go back to district court sometime next year. If the district court does not reach any different conclusions, and if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t get involved, then this summer’s 10th Circuit decision will remain in effect. And some experts think that could be a disaster for the legal weed industry.
Legal Weed’s Weak Spot?
The Reillys didn’t fund their recent lawsuit themselves. Instead, the case was picked up and funded by a nonprofit called the Safe Streets Alliance.
This murky, little known, anti-weed group helped bring a similar suit to court in 2015. In that case, a Holiday Inn won. The weed business being sued had to pay out $70,000. It then went out of business.
In both cases, the plaintiffs cited a set of laws called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
The laws were originally written to go after organized crime and corruption. But they also allow private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone involved in a crime that harms their property or business.
And this is where cases like the Holiday Inn’s and the Reillys’ come in. Both claimed that nearby cannabis businesses were: a) breaking federal law and therefore committing a crime, and b) damaging their property and their business.
The way some experts see it, the 10th Circuit’s decision this summer could turn into a legal “road map for people who hate marijuana to initiate the collapse of legal weed in America.”
Put simply, the Reillys may have stumbled on an effective weapon against legal weed companies. If this summer’s decision holds up, then theoretically anyone near a weed business could make similar claims under RICO laws. In this way, anti-mafia racketeering laws could destroy legal weed.
Final Hit: Anti-Mafia Racketeering Laws Could Destroy Legal Weed
Although RICO laws were originally intended to go after corrupt organizations like the mafia, they could potentially be used to shut down legal weed businesses.
So far, there’s been confusion among federal lawmakers. Under Obama, the attitude was to not interfere with a state’s decision to legalize weed.
But the Trump administration has seemed much less open to cannabis. Most notably, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an outspoken opponent of legal weed. He compared it to heroin. Additionally, he told law enforcement officials that “medical marijuana had been hyped, maybe too much.”
More recently, Sessions has talked about going after medical marijuana programs. But so far, the Trump administration hasn’t taken any concrete steps. And it might not have to if weed opponents figure out how to use RICO laws to squeeze legal weed companies out of business.