(READ) Lawsuits filed against DC government for violating federal drug-free school zones

The following is from 1000′ One Thousand Feet:

Two community organizations –1000 Feet and Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C– have filed lawsuits in the D.C. Court of Appeals against the District’s Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Administration (ABCA) over its decisions to grant licenses to two “medical” marijuana retailers to operate in close proximity to several schools and daycares. 

1000 Feet, a non-profit made up of parents and community members concerned about children’s exposure to increasingly potent and harmful drugs, filed suit over ABCA licensing a marijuana retailer in the educational corridor of the Palisades neighborhood of D.C.

Under the Federal Drug-Free School Zones law, a law specifically designed to protect the health and safety of children, Congress established heightened criminal penalties against those who distribute marijuana within 1000 feet of public or private schools. Several elementary schools are within 1000 feet of the marijuana retailer ABCA authorized in the Palisades neighborhood: Our Lady of Victory Catholic Schoolthe River SchoolSt. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School; and the Lab School; as well as a daycare, Little Ivies.

In direct defiance of the Federal law’s 1000-foot protective zone, D.C. now purports to allow ABCA to authorize marijuana stores to operate in close proximity to schools, daycares, and playgrounds —and in some cases without any distance restriction whatsoever—placing children in harm’s way. 

Members of 1000 Feet, who have children as young as three years old attending school near the marijuana retailer, raised concerns about public health and safety in a formal protest letter to ABCA while the retailer’s application was pending. ABCA refused to address their concerns and dismissed the protest altogether, claiming that only an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) in D.C. has standing to object to any marijuana retailer licenses. (By contrast, any five residents can protest a liquor license.)

Despite overwhelming public outcry in opposition to the marijuana retailer near the schools, the ANC for the Palisades had refused to protest. Yet, even when a different ANC in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of D.C. did file a protest against a marijuana retailer’s application to operate near schools there, it fared no better with ABCA in the end.

In that neighborhood, a marijuana retailer applied to operate a mere 87 feet from a public charter school, BASIS DC, and in close proximity a school serving students in grades 6-12 as well as a preschool and childcare center. Responsive to the widespread opposition from its community, ANC 2C filed a protest with ABCA against the pending license, arguing that the location was inappropriate due to the proximity to schools and the effect on the operation of those schools.

However, at the hearing that ABCA held to consider the marijuana license, ABCA officials shut down testimony from the BASIS school’s principal, refused to allow peer-reviewed, federally funded research to be introduced into the record, and were overtly dismissive of parents’ concerns about the health and safety of the children nearby. Ignoring the evidence, ABCA then unlawfully granted the license.

It claimed that a marijuana retailer operating 87 feet from the school “is appropriate for the neighborhood.” In fact, this licensed marijuana retailer will be the closest to a school anywhere in the country, and ABCA’s decision is a brazen insult to the protections the Federal Drug-Free School Zones law is meant to provide children nationwide. 

“The DC government is allowing a cannabis dispensary to open directly across the street from my children’s school,” said David Stevenson, a parent of two at BASIS DC. “I don’t think a dispensary belongs near a school, and certainly not across the street.” “In a city already struggling with high crime, the D.C. government is now more concerned with promoting the interests of the marijuana industry than it is with protecting the health of children,” said Lucy Sullivan, a board member of 1000 Feet, public health advocate and parent of children at one of the affected schools. “ABCA cannot continue to ignore the Federal Drug-Free School Zones Act and must stop licensing the sale of marijuana so close to the places where kids learn and play. Failing that, we trust that the court will act to protect the District’s children and safeguard our rights to keep government accountable to its citizens.” 

In the lawsuits, both 1000 Feet and ANC 2C are asking the court to set aside ABCA’s unlawful decisions to approve the licenses near the schools.

Both groups are represented pro bono by lawyers from the international law firms Morrison & Foerster, led by partner Joseph Folio III, and Nixon Peabody, led by partner Mark Lytle

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