Yesterday, a federal appeals court in San Francisco informed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to stop prosecuting medical marijuana cases where no state law has been violated.
A panel consisting of 3 judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the ruling against the DOJ.
The decision affirms and an action taken by Congress. In late 2014, congressional members included an amendment in a spending bill that prohibited the DOJ from getting in the way of states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Federal prosecutors attempted to argue that the intention of Congress was only to ban the DOJ from filing charges against the states and that they could move forward with prosecutions against individuals in violation of federal law despite following state guidelines. This argument was rejected by the 9th Circuit.
“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 Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote in the panel’s decision.
Members of the DOJ are deciding on whether or not to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. It may be hard to continue the narrative that Congress intended for individuals to be prosecuted.
“Congress is increasingly united in the recognition that we should not interfere with what states are doing with medical marijuana,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) said in a statement. “Unfortunately we’ve got the DEA and 93 U.S. attorneys who have people that are still frying little fish.”
The victory could be big for marijuana advocates and could set a precedent for the future. “This is the beginning of the end of federal prosecutions of state medical marijuana dispensary operators, growers and patients,” attorney Marc Zilversmit said. Zilversmit represents dispensaries and growers in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
There are currently 25 states that permit the use of medical marijuana. Additionally, 4 states have a recreational marijuana system in place with residents in 9 states voting on legalization in November. The DOJ may have no choice but to reconcile with what may soon be a vast majority of states allowing the legal use of marijuana.