Medical marijuana providers and patients will always be walking on murky territory as long as cannabis stays illegal on the federal level. But with a federal court in California finally ruling a case in their favor, things might start to change especially in states where medical marijuana has been legalized.
United States District Judge Charles R. Breyer ordered the lifting of an injunction against Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, one of California’s oldest legal medical marijuana dispensaries. He ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) interpretation of the newly-enacted Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment “defies language and logic,” “tortures the plain meaning of the statute,” and is “at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law.”
Just to give a brief background on the amendment co-authored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the statute simply lists down the 23 states where medical marijuana is legal. It mandates that the Justice Department is not allowed to use federal funding to “prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
While most advocates interpret this as prohibiting the DEA from going after medical marijuana dispensaries as long as they’re not violating state law, DEA thinks otherwise. According to a leaked memo, the Justice Department wrote that the amendment only covers actual states, not individuals and businesses within those states.
Hence, they are still allowed to pursue legal actions against such businesses and patients who patronize them. In fact, the medical marijuana industry in California and other states has faced federal crackdown since 2011 despite the existence of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.
So the ruling made by Judge Breyer was welcomed by many and is considered as a major victory for marijuana providers and patients. Attorneys believe that this can have a far-reaching legal impact, especially against DEA’s involvement with California’s medical marijuana program.
“We finally have a federal judge who is taking the authors of the spending amendment seriously when they say the intent and its wording should be interpreted so that the federal government should not be spending resources prosecuting individuals complying with state law,” said a spokesperson from the law office of attorney Robert Raich.
Advocates are satisfied with the ruling, too. “It’s great to see the judicial branch finally starting to hold the Justice Department accountable for its willful violation of Congress’s intent to end federal interference with state medical marijuana laws,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority.
“This is a big win for medical marijuana patients and their providers and a significant victory in our efforts to end the federal government’s war on marijuana,” said Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project in a statement. “Federal raids of legitimate medical marijuana businesses aren’t just stupid and wasteful, but also illegal.”
Even the sponsors are happy with the decision. “After months of experiencing the Department of Justice’s refusal to follow the letter and intent of the Rohrabacher-Farr provision, a federal court has finally reined them in. Judge Breyer’s rebuke of DoJ’s ridiculous interpretation of our amendment is most welcomed,” said Rep. Rohrabacher in an email to Washington Post.
As for Lynette Shaw, owner of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, she told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We won the war. And I’m the first POW to be released.” Though it will take quite some time for her dispensary to get back on its feet after four years of being hounded by various federal agencies, she has started a GoFundMe drive to reopen the old dispensary. As of press time, she has already collected a little over 20 percent of her target fund.
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