As states across America continue to embrace cannabis legalization and shed the plant’s longtime stigma, it can often feel like weed has made it squarely into mainstream culture. But despite some form of marijuana reform on the books in over half of the country, legal marijuana still has its fair share of haters. In a new lawsuit filed in federal court this summer, one Oregon lawyer is taking that battle as far as possible, continuing a year-long fight to halt state-approved canna-businesses with racketeering laws designed to break up organized crime rings.
According to the Willamette Weekly, Rachel McCart, an Oregon litigator with a specialty in horse sales, filed a “RICO” lawsuit against edibles producer Oregon Candy Farm and more than 200 companies that have done business with the infused candy company, claiming that the state-legal business constitutes a federal crime ring whose existence directly lowered the property value of her client’s home.
The latest lawsuit is just one in a long string of similar court cases from neighbors of cannabis businesses. In 2017, McCart and her husband filed their own RICO lawsuit against a neighboring cannabis company. By ignoring state statutes and bringing the lawsuits to federal courts, McCart and others aim to put pressure on judges to personally decide the viability of state legalization projects in light of the federal prohibition on pot. So far, the precedent to invoke RICO against organizations of cannabis businesses has been upheld in Colorado’s 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, but none of the subsequent cases pursued has resulted in a victory for marijuana opponents.
"It's essentially a shakedown," said Mason Walker, a defendant in the Oregon Candy Farm RICO case with his business partners and his company, East Fork Cultivars, to the Willamette Weekly. "We don't want to be shaken down, and we don't want this to happen again."
In 2017, owners of a Pueblo, Colorado ranch sued their cannabis-growing neighbors using the RICO statute, claiming that the strong smell of weed and menacing neighbors decreased their property value. In that case, the owners of the pot farm were never formally prosecuted, but a federal court of appeals ruled that the RICO claims had merit, opening the door for similar suits from McCart and a number of other disgruntled neighbors.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane threw out another Oregon case filed under the same racketeering pretext this week, ruling that a coalition of five neighboring property owners failed to prove that their proximity to a pot farm had actually caused any property damage or loss of value.
Time and again, circuit judges have ruled that the location and smell of marijuana does not constitute property damage, effectively quashing each RICO claim. Still, if a federal judge does decide that a cannabis farmer or product producer is participating in a racketeering organization, the result could severely disrupt America’s burgeoning green rush, giving disgruntled neighbors across the legal weed landscape precedent to take down their own pot-growing neighbors — and anyone with whom they’ve ever done business.
For now, however, the federal lawsuits are just another broken wrench in the toolbox of prohibitionists trying desperately to stem the tide of legalization.
"Plaintiffs' lawyers are learning how to file meritless, harassing lawsuits like this at a national continuing legal education event on how to sue the marijuana industry," Portland lawyer Bear Wilner-Nugent, who represents one of the defendants in the Oregon Candy Farm case, told Willamette Weekly. "My client and I will aggressively defend this lawsuit and seek all available remedies against the lawyer who is misusing the legal process in this case."