In perhaps what is one of the most significant developments in the grand scheme of national marijuana reform, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has determined that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its cronies at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cannot use federal funds to prosecute people or medical marijuana businesses as long as they are in compliance with state law.
Last December, the court was charged with deciding whether the Justice Department was well within its legal right to continue kicking down the doors of dispensaries and other pot-related businesses that were operating in accordance with state policy. At the core of this inquiry were 10 drug cases where the federal government used its own loose interpretation of a rider strapped to a federal budget to swoop in on farms and dispensaries in states with medicinal cannabis programs and put them in a state of distress.
A couple of years ago Congress approved a rider that has become known as the Rohrabacher Farr amendment, which is intended to prevent the Justice Department from spending money to stir up trouble within the medical marijuana community. However, the rider, which was signed into law in 2014 by President Obama and renewed last year, essentially became a worthless development once it was revealed that federal officials were of the opinion that the measure only prevented them keeping states from legalizing medical marijuana.
In fact, this declaration was made public in April 2015 when a spokesperson for the DOJ confirmed with the Los Angeles Times that the amendment only hindered the department from “impending the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”
However, a three-judge panel for Court of Appeals took issue with the concept of the federal government continuing to prosecute individuals and businesses for violating the Controlled Substance Act when their respective states have given them legal permission to engage in such activities. The panel said, “We are not persuaded,” before offering its opinion on the matter.
“At a minimum, [the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment] 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,” Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote for the panel. “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.”
But despite the reports suggesting that this decision has completely ended the war on medical marijuana, it is worth mentioning that the implications of this ruling only go as far as Congressional powers are willing to carry Rohrabacher-Farr. Judge O’Scannlain wrote that, “Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”
Nevertheless, the court’s verdict is relatively strong smack in the face of the DEA after the agency announced last week that it was not going to downgrade the Schedule I listing of the cannabis plant because “it’s not” safe and effective medicine.
Photo: Vortex Farmacy