Following the recent federal court ruling, the Department of Justice cannot prosecute individuals for federal drug law violations when they are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
A federal court ruled this month that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot spend money to prosecute federal marijuana cases if the defendants are complying with state guidelines. With the ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, patients and businesses in states with medical marijuana laws who are obeying the law’s regulations are not under risk of prosecution from federal law enforcement.
The ruling is in response to an appeal by defendants in 10 combined cases that had been indicted for infractions of the federal Controlled Substances Act. With the passing of the 2014 Congressional law known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana that is authorized by the state, the defendants sought dismissal of their charges, arguing that they were in compliance with state law.
The ruling from the three-judge panel, including Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, Barry G. Silverman, and Carlos T. Bea, was unanimous. The panel concluded that “at a minimum, [Rohrabacher-Farr] prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.”
With the ruling, the defendants did not have their charges dismissed, but their cases will now be sent to lower courts to determine whether they were in compliance with state laws. Some of the defendants ran marijuana dispensaries in California, a state with medical marijuana laws, and had faced charges for marijuana distribution.
The Department of Justice, according to The Washington Post, had previously “interpreted the measure to mean only that it couldn’t stop state governments from carrying out their medical marijuana laws — not that it couldn’t prosecute cases against individuals or businesses in those states.” This new ruling, however, clearly prohibits the Justice Department from going after medical marijuana patients and businesses.
“If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana,” Judge O’Scannlain wrote for the panel.
“This is a major blow against the federal government’s continuing war on medical marijuana and the people who rely on it for relief,” Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority told The Washington Post in an email.
Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) declined to reclassify marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. It remains classified as a Schedule I substance, classification reserved for the most dangerous drugs with a high risk of abuse and no recognized medical value.
As of today, 25 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive medical marijuana laws. Voters in three states, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Florida, will vote on medical cannabis initiatives in November.