The medical marijuana community secured a major victory this week when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down a verdict that strictly prohibits the Department of Justice and the ruthless fiends at the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration from using tax dollars to kick down the doors of those businesses and individuals acting in accordance with state law.
Last year, the court was petitioned to decide on whether the Justice Department still maintained the authority to prosecute dispensaries and other marijuana-related operations conducting themselves within the language of their respective state policies. At the foundation of the complaint were 10 federal drug cases in which Uncle Sam used a liberal interpretation of a Congressional rider -- known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment -- to bring down the hammer on members of the medical marijuana industry.
The rider, which was approved by Congress in 2014 for inclusion in a federal spending bill, was designed to prevent the Justice Department from using funds to continue its savage wrath against those in the business of growing and selling marijuana for medicinal purposes.
But even while President Obama signed the amendment into law, it wasn’t long before it became painfully evident that the federal government had not intention on taking its purpose very seriously. In fact, to get away with their devious mission, the Justice Department simply issued a statement that suggested the rider only prevented them from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” but that it did nothing to stop them from going after the medical marijuana community.
Fortunately, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals disagreed with this skewed interpretation of the amendment, stating that it takes issue with the idea of the federal government prosecution for criminal activity that has been suspended under the authority of Congress. The panel went on to explain that as long as these people are acting in compliance with state law, there is no need to move forward with federal prosecution.
All 10 cases have now been sent back to state court in order to determine whether any laws were actually broken.
“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 on behalf of 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.”
However, while this decision should force the Justice Department to lay off the medical marijuana industry, the implications behind the ruling are not permanent by any stretch of the imagination. That’s because the verdict only applies as long as Congressional forces continue to renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which they have so far. But as Judge O’Scannlain pointed out in the panel’s decision, “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.”