This week cannabis activists going to battle in the War on Drugs officially gained a huge leap forward with an unprecedented legal victory. In October a federal judge in California ruled that the government does not have the authority to block the operations of medical marijuana clubs operating within state law. The decision marked a major personal triumph for Lynnette Shaw, who ran the the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM) from 1996 until it was shutdown by federal action in 2011, and had overarching ramifications for medical marijuana dispensaries across the state and nation. As expected, the historic federal ruling was subsequently appealed by the Department of Justice. But on Tuesday that appeal was dismissed leaving Shaw, who was aiming to overturn an 18-year-old civil injunction barring her from any involvement within the cannabis industry, free to run a dispensary again.
“This is an extremely key decision for everybody in the movement,” Shaw said 48 hours after learning the DOJ appeal had been dismissed. “I have a federal judge’s orders that I can sell and distribute marijuana under state law.”
The extraordinary October ruling out of California’s 9th Circuit Court came in light of a 2014 amendment proposed by representatives Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr. Adopted by the House and Senate before receiving the presidential seal of approval in 2014, the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the DOJ from using funds towards preventing, “states from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Shaw’s attorney, Greg Anton, believes the the decision from U.S. District Judge Charles Breyers — the same judge who granted the 1998 injunction against Shaw — will set precedent across the nation.
“Breyers’ ruling is the law in Northern California now, but it’s also very persuasive throughout the country,” Anton said. “It’s the first time that a judge, a federal judge, has made a ruling that says my client can distribute medical marijuana without federal interference.”
Shaw says six months after opening MAMM, which had the prestigious honor of becoming the first locally-licensed dispensary in the nation in 2007, she was targeted by federal authorities who placed a civil injunction against her. In 2011, while Shaw continued to spend thousands of dollars fighting the injunction, the DOJ — headed in Northern California by now retired U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag — launched a series of sweeping raids and property forfeiture actions against dispensaries across the state. As a part of these actions MAMM was forced into closure when the feds threatened the dispensary’s landlord. Other medical marijuana providers, such as Harborside Health Center and Berkeley Patients Group, have been able to dispel closure thus far, but continue to face the potential of civil forfeiture to this day.
“[Judge Breyers’ decision] will have a direct impact on Harborside,” Anton said Friday, noting he had already taken a call with the lawyer representing the dispensary that remains one of the largest medical cannabis providers in the nation.
Breyers ruling, Anton explains, could be especially impactful due to its strong, clear language.
“It defies language and logic for the government to argue that it does not ‘prevent’ California from ‘implementing’ its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these same heavily regulated medical marijuana dispensaries,” Breyers wrote.
Bogged down for the last 18 years by the case against her, Shaw is fighting her way back from bankruptcy and says she will officially start a new venture in medical marijuana — a delivery service devoted to veterans — early next week.
Read Judge Breyers’ full ruling below.