Medical marijuana users and supporters celebrate a huge victory this week.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed medical marijuana users a huge victory this week in a ruling barring federal prosecutions.
Slate reports that: “On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit handed medical marijuana patients a huge legal victory, barring the federal government from prosecuting patients, growers, and dispensaries that follow state medical marijuana laws.”
The emphatic decision may finally persuade the Department of Justice to halt its campaign against medical marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law but has been legalized in 25 states and the District of Columbia. It arrives just days after the Obama administration announced new rules permitting many more research institutions to grow the plant and use it in clinical trials.
At issue was “the federal appropriations bill known as the Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies Appropriations Act funds the Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, and other agencies,” explains MedicalJane, adding that “a rider to the bill [§ 542 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act] also explicitly bans the use of federal funds to interfere with states implementing their own laws legalizing medical marijuana laws. This provision has been provided in the last two funding bills and is expected to be included in next year’s spending bill.” [see also The Washington Post: “Ninth Circuit bars federal prosecutions for state-law-authorized medical marijuana“]
Justice Diarmuid O’Scannlain rendered the decision on behalf of the panel in United States v McIntosh et al.:
“In sum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending money on actions that prevent the Medical Marijuana States’ giving practical effect to their state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana….
“[By prosecuting state-authorized medical marijuana users,] DOJ, without taking any legal action against the Medical Marijuana States, prevents them from implementing their laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana by prosecuting individuals for use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana that is authorized by such laws. By officially permitting certain conduct, state law provides for nonprosecution of individuals who engage in such conduct. If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law providing for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in the permitted conduct.
“We therefore conclude that, at a minimum, § 542 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….”
As MedicalJane reports, “The ruling will have an immediate impact on ten dispensary owners / operators, all of whom claim to be in compliance with their states’ (California and Washington) marijuana laws, under the federal Controlled Substances Act. […] The court’s opinion is clear — if prosecutors wish to pursue prosecution, they must prove that the defendants violated medical marijuana laws of the state.”
“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,” O’Scannlain wrote.
The news is not all good, however.
As Slate concludes:
Unfortunately for medical marijuana patients, however, this rather makeshift approach to easing medical marijuana restrictions has a drawback: Congress could easily drop the rider from the next appropriations bill, allowing the DOJ to pick up where it left off and continue sending medical marijuana patients and growers to prison. In that sense, Tuesday’s victory is rather tenuous. And until the federal government gets serious about cannabis reform, tenuous relief is all medical marijuana patients can hope for.
Featured Image: By O’Dea at WikiCommons, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14575708