We’ve previously discussed several civil cases in Oregon where private parties sought to shut down cannabis grow operations under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act), claiming that the grow was part of a criminal conspiracy that would drive down property values (see our RICO series here, here, here and here).
Today, we have an update on two marijuana RICO cases elsewhere the country, one in Colorado, and the other in Massachusetts.
Colorado: In a previous post, we discussed Safe Streets Alliance v. Alternative Holistic Healing, LLC, a case from Colorado. This case is notable because the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has already issued an opinion addressing several key legal issues, giving the litigants the go-ahead to try their case. In dicta, the 10th Circuit noted that at trial, it was possible that a judge or jury would determine that the plaintiff’s land was actually more valuable because of its suitability for cannabis cultivation. Although the 10th Circuit’s opinion only technically applies in the states of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, other trial and appellate courts will consider the opinion as “persuasive” authority, in other RICO cases.
This case is now scheduled for trial beginning in late August 2018. Assuming this case does not settle, and regardless of the verdict, the result will likely have far-reaching impact on potential RICO actions nationwide. As to the trial itself, many issues will be raised, from admissibility of evidence to expert testimony. One or more of those issues will likely be appealed again to the 10th Circuit. Future litigants are likely to use the trial record as a guide to bringing and defending these RICO cases.
Massachusetts: In Crimson Galeria v. Healthy Pharms, the plaintiff, a Harvard Square property owner, claims that Healthy Pharms, a neighbor and prospective cannabis operation, will diminish the value of plaintiffs’ property. As claimed in the lawsuit, “amongst other matters, marijuana businesses make bad neighbors, which include without limitation, emitting pungent odors, attracting undesirable visitors, increasing criminal activity, driving down property values, and limiting the rental of premises.” As with the Safe Streets case, one wonders whether suitability for cannabis sale actually increases the value of the land.
The lawsuit also alleges that local and state government agencies, including the state Department of Public Health and the city of Cambridge are “facilitating and encouraging violations of the federal drug laws by licensing and permitting marijuana businesses.” One of the plaintiffs’ claims is that the federal Controlled Substance Act (CSA) “preempts the practice of state and local officials in Massachusetts of issuing licenses to operate marijuana businesses.” The 10th Circuit addressed similar preemption arguments, ultimately finding that the plaintiffs had no claims on which relief could be granted. But Massachusetts is in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, and the 1st Circuit judges will not be bound by the Safe Streets opinion (although they almost certainly will consider it).
It is at least theoretically possible that the 1st Circuit could find differently than the 10th Circuit, causing a circuit split that would have to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. That would be a doozy.