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Ninth Circuit Judge Rules That Feds Still Can't Prosecute California Medical Cannabis Growers

This is the first successful challenge against federal prosecution of state-legal cannabis growers.

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A federal judge has put a stop to the prosecution of two Northern California cannabis growers, in the first known ruling where the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment has protected state-legal cannabis growers. In 2014, Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess and grow marijuana in Humboldt County. The two men would have faced up to three years in prison on these federal charges, but U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg suspended further proceedings in the case this week.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was first attached to the Justice Department budget in 2014 and has been approved every year since, prevents the federal government from spending money to interfere with any state-legal medical marijuana operations. Last August, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this amendment prevented federal prosecution of anyone complying with their state's medical marijuana laws.

In his ruling, Judge Seeborg said that the evidence shows that the two men “strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by California law.” Pisarksi's attorney, Ronald Richards, said that the defendants will attempt to withdraw their guilty pleas. “We’re finally seeing the tide turning and the law changing,” Richards said. “I never thought I’d have the right to stop a federal criminal prosecution.”

The prosecution might only be delayed, not stopped, if Congress allows the amendment to expire. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is working to convince legislators to remove these restrictions from the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts October 1st. Judge Seeborg said that if the amendment is removed, federal prosecutors would be able to reopen the case.

However, Richards noted that the amendment has already cleared its first Senate subcommittee with bipartisan support, and believes that it will be renewed for the upcoming fiscal year.

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