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Plaintiffs' Lawyers, Ready for Action

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John Walters and Tom Riley suggest in the Weekly Standard how Big Dope might follow Big Tobacco off the tort liability cliff:

[C]ommunities are not helpless before [the legalization] onslaught. Even when the criminal law has been compromised at the state level, resort to civil procedure might offer protection. Legal or illegal, marijuana injures users--researchers call it a "neurotoxin"--and those who distribute it for profit are liable for its known effects. Its production and distribution, after all, are still federal crimes. America's tort attorneys could respond by suing drug retailers for the harm done by their product to particular addicts, then collecting damages for the clients and legal fees for themselves.

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If you think trial lawyers made a windfall on tobacco, just wait until they get a handle on marijuana. The scientific and medical evidence against marijuana now dwarfs what we knew about tobacco at the time of the surgeon general's report of 1964. No warning label in the world could shield marijuana growers and sellers from the tsunami of tort liability they should face from distributing a product with so many known harmful effects. 

Tort lawyers versus pot pushers is a match I'd pay good money to see.

3 Comments

I would favor the tort lawyers by a touchdown or more.

The tobacco companies lost lawsuits because they conducted studies and had evidence of the harms caused by smoking while continuing to lie to consumers about the effects of smoking on health. That kind of tort claim doesn't work if you start off with warning labels and ban most advertising. Selling harmful or dangerous products is not itself tortious. Which is why people have not been able to successfully sue McDonald's, notwithstanding the fact that many of its products are tremendously bad for you.

But then Mr. Walters never went to law school, so his knowledge of tort law might be a little rough.

The claim about medical evidence relative to pre-1964 tobacco health effects data is also laughable. The Surgeon General's report summarizes the history of the research, which included countless studies demonstrating a causal link between smoking and lung cancer by the end of the 1950s.

No surprise that the former drug czar wrote an article attacking marijuana that invoked two topics he apparently knows little about: tort law and tobacco research.

1. George Will and Charles Krauthammer also are not lawyers, but I would not want to have to match wits with them on a legal subject.

2. If there's a causal link between smoking tobacco and cancer, then a fortiori there's one between smoking pot and cancer. The smoke is unfiltered, goes right in your lungs, and has more damaging chemicals in it than tobacco.

3. McDonald's gets sued all the time. They have not lost cases about the food per se, but they've lost plenty of cases and have settled more.

4. Never underestimate the plaintiffs' bar. They're the only people I know more creative and nimble than criminal defense lawyers.

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