The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has affirmed a lower court ruling that the Department of Justice cannot spend any funds prosecuting people complying with state-legal medical cannabis laws.
“We therefore conclude that at a minimum [Congressional law] prohibits [the Department of Justice] from spending funds … for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws,” the decision states. It was filed today.
Since California started in 1996, 37 states now have some form of medical cannabis law. The Department of Justice under President Obama has spent hundreds of millions of dollars interfering with state medical marijuana systems, advocates say.
In 2014, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr used the power of the purse to end the war on medical weed, defunding federal “interference” in state systems. Since then, U.S. attorneys have sought to narrow the definition of “interference” to allow for continued medical marijuana-related prosecutions. Prosecutors had argued Congressional law only forbids them from intimidating state regulators.
But federal prosecutors were dealt a stunning rebuke from Judge Charles Breyer in a lower court ruling in October. Judge Breyer said Congressional law is clear — no interference.
Now, the Ninth Circuit has weighed in, ruling on a handful of federal cases where the so-called “Rohrabacher-Farr” amendment could apply. The Ninth Circuit ruled that federal prosecutions of lawful state actors amounts to interference, because it prevents the state from “giving practical effect to its law providing for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in the permitted conduct.”
The precedent-setting Circuit ruling from three judges — Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, Barry G. Silverman, and Carlos T. Bea — places a dome of legal protection over all lawful state-level medical cannabis conduct in its jurisdiction. The precedent promises to be raised throughout the country in similar cases, legal experts say.
Congress is now at work on a bi-partisan law to make permanent the cease-fire on medical marijuana, under the CARERS Act. Last week, the DEA concluded cannabis should remain a “schedule 1” drug deemed to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. A super-majority of Americans support safe access to medical marijuana, recent polls find.
Oakland attorney Robert Raich, a veteran cannabis litigator said judges had been ignoring Congressional law, and the new ruling makes the issue clear.
“Finally, the Ninth Circuit is providing clarity and overruling a number of district court judges that were ignoring the will of Congress,” he said. “This decision indicates that the federal government should stop its attack on state-legal cannabis providers and allow the states to create and implement frameworks that serve the medical needs of their citizens.”