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Lawmakers Slam DOJ: Stop Prosecuting Against State MMJ Law

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (D-CA) speaks in 2013. Photo By Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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Lawmakers Slam DOJ: Stop Prosecuting Against State MMJ Law

The battle between Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) and the Department of Justice continued on Thursday when the congressmen sent the department a letter warning them to stop misinterpreting and violating the law.

In 2014, Rohrabacher and Farr passed an amendment — which prohibited the Department of Justice’s prosecutions against those complying with a state’s medical marijuana program — into law. At the time, the representatives celebrated, saying in a statement that patients now can have “comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care legal in their state without the fear of federal prosecution.”

But this April, a representative of the DOJ, Patrick Rodenbush, told the LA Times that the department still had the authority to prosecute individuals and organizations for medical marijuana use, sale, production or distribution. The amendment, Rodenbush said, only prohibited the DOJ from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” Effectively, he said, the DOJ can prosecute anyone but the state itself.

However, Rohrabacher and Farr have responded with a letter addressed to the DOJ’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz that says this interpretation “is clearly a stretch.”

“The implementation of state laws is carried out by individuals and businesses as the state authorizes them to do so,” the letter reads. “For DOJ to argue otherwise is a tortuous twisting of the text… and common sense and the use of federal funds to prevent these individuals and businesses from acting in accordance with state law is clearly in violation of Rohrabacher-Farr.”

The letter also requests that the department investigate its spending on prosecutions against those in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. Since the passage of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment and its recent renewal for another year, the DOJ has continued to spend tax dollars prosecuting marijuana cases. For example, they have continued to prosecute the prominent California dispensary Harborside Health Center, against Washington growers known as the Kettle Falls Five, and against another dispensary owner in California, Charles Lynch.

On April 8, right after Rodenbush’s statement, Rohrabacher and Farr sent another letter to then Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to bring the Justice Department into compliance with their amendment.

“No reasonable person would agree with the Department’s interpretation of the amendment,” said Farr, in a press release at the time. “The DOJ can try to parse its wording but Congress was perfectly clear: Stop wasting limited funds attacking medical marijuana patients.”

Rohrabacher and Farr closed their April letter by “respectfully insisting” for compliance. Three months later, however, their letter specifically accuses the department of violating the Anti-Deficiency Act — which prohibits federal employees from spending unauthorized money — and their amendment and demands an investigation into the potentially illegal action.

The Department of Justice has not responded.

Should the federal government respect state’s rights in regards to cannabis? Let us know below.

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