The cannabis industry recently survived two lawsuits initiated by private citizens under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The cases took place in the District of Colorado and the District of Massachusetts, and both saw neighbors of legal cannabis businesses attempt to use RICO as a means of disrupting the cannabis industry.
The Colorado lawsuit was brought by plaintiffs Hope and Michael Reilly against cannabis grower Parker Walton. An anti-drug organization called Safe Streets Alliance was also a plaintiff in the case, but was dismissed during the course of the litigation. Plaintiffs claimed that Walton’s grow operation, which abuts their land in Rye, Colorado, diminished the value of their property due to the pungent odor of cannabis emanating from it, along with the loud noise it produced. The jury disagreed, finding that Walton and his business did not cause any of the alleged damages to plaintiffs.
In the Massachusetts lawsuit, plaintiffs also used RICO to claim that a legal marijuana business, Healthy Pharms, damaged the property value of four buildings they owned nearby. Similar to plaintiffs in Colorado, plaintiffs here alleged that the retail sale of marijuana is an odorous and stigmatized activity that reduces property values. And these plaintiffs did not limit their suit to Healthy Pharms, rather, they also sued its officials, real estate company, advisers, insurer, and bank as well. In addition, plaintiffs sued the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the City of Cambridge, and the Town of Georgetown. However, the Massachusetts plaintiffs have apparently fared no better than their Colorado counterparts. On August 21, 2018, U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs dismissed the claims against the government defendants. Then, on November 9, 2018, a stipulation of voluntary dismissal with prejudice was filed, dismissing all claims in the matter.
While the cannabis businesses targeted by these lawsuits emerged unscathed, these cases nonetheless highlight the obstacles the cannabis industry continues to face, despite the growing acceptance of cannabis across the country, and its notable successes.