RICO law used to target marijuana businesses

herb-2915337_640An anti-mobster law, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, has emerged as a tool to fight marijuana-related businesses, including a case in Massachusetts citing “pungent odors” caused by consumption of the substance, among other negative effects.

Bloomberg reports, “While pot remains illegal under federal law, Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana consumption in 2012 and recreational use in 2016; the latter will kick in next year. The drug is legal for at least one of the two purposes in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. But that doesn’t mean everybody wants a weed business next door. That’s why the burgeoning $6 billion marijuana business in the U.S. should view the RICO suits as serious threats, says Sean O’Connor, faculty director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the University of Washington School of Law. Even if all the litigation fails, he says, ‘it could have its intended impact.’

“A lawsuit against Healthy Pharms in Cambridge, Mass., argues the company “would operate in flagrant disregard of the federal law that categorizes cannabis as a controlled substance every bit as illegal as heroin or cocaine.”

A similar lawsuit, a nearly 3-year-old suit in Colorado, is scheduled to go to trial in July, reports Marijuana Business Daily.

“This is an existential threat to the industry,” said Brian Barnes, an attorney with Cooper & Kirk law firm, according to the MBD.

Valerio Romano, an attorney for one of the Massachusetts defendants, said “the real impact of RICO suits could be to simply scare entrepreneurs into quitting the marijuana business.”

Will Pot + RICO Challenge State’s Federalist Trend?

Marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn., in 2015. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Marijuana plants grow at LifeLine Labs in Cottage Grove, Minn., in 2015. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Writing in The Washington Post, legal commentator Jonathan H. Adler outlines both the context and challenges facing “legal” marijuana now that a law targeting gangsters is being used for civil resistance to state pot reforms. We’ve reported before that the federal 10th Circuit court has taken a stand and it’s significant.
Adler outlines the federal context, including how the U.S. Congress has linked marijuana to funding legislation, before going into the looming challenges.
He notes that “… a bigger potential threat [to state legalization efforts] comes from the fact that marijuana possession and distribution are predicate offenses under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). This means that those who produce or sell marijuana are potentially subject to civil RICO suits, whether or not such activities are legal under state law. So held the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit earlier this year. A federal judge once described RICO as “the monster that ate jurisprudence.” Barring real reform at the federal level, it could be the monster that ate marijuana federalism, too. Here again, an appropriations rider is insufficient.

Adler is arguing that the RICO use is a threat to the “federalism” model for state control. 
Opinion | Will marijuana make federalism go up in smoke?