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Appeals Court: DEA Cannot Use Federal Funds to Prosecute Legal Medical Marijuana Growers

19-Aug-2016

Federal law and state law have clashed regarding the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana in states which allow medical marijuana or recreational marijuana. Under federal law, marijuana is a banned substance with no recognized medical use. In some states, however, lawmakers recognize legitimate medical use of marijuana in treating a number of health conditions.

But if federal law makes it illegal to grow or sell marijuana, and the DEA refuses to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I (“no currently accepted medical use”), then there comes a problem when the federal government prosecutes those who produce and sell marijuana in medical marijuana states. How can those who rely on marijuana to treat their medical conditions obtain the drug if no one is allowed to grow or sell it?

Recently, a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling has given some relief to those who have been prosecuted and convicted for growing and selling marijuana in medical marijuana states. In its decision, the Court affirmed that the federal government, through the DEA, cannot use federal funds to prosecute those who are in compliance with state laws regarding medical marijuana.

The court’s ruling in United States v. McIntosh is based upon a Congressional rider added to an omnibus appropriations bill in December 2014. The rider reads as follows:

None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.

In US v. McIntosh, the appeals court heard arguments from three separate court cases involving multiple parties indicted by the federal government for growing marijuana or selling in smoke shops. The parties argued that their charges were in violation of the congressional rider barring the federal government from using DEA funds to prosecute in medical marijuana states.

The appeals court ruled in favor of the defendants and supported the rider, saying, “DOJ argues that it does not prevent the Medical Marijuana States from giving practical effect to their medical marijuana laws by prosecuting private individuals, rather than taking legal action against the state. We are not persuaded.”

The court’s summary opinion held as follows:

The panel held that § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by state medical marijuana laws and who fully complied with such laws. The panel wrote that individuals who do not strictly comply with all state-law conditions regarding the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana have engaged in conduct that is unauthorized, and that prosecuting such individuals does not violate § 542.

In other words, if a store owner or marijuana grower complies with all state laws regarding the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, then the federal government cannot use federal funds to prosecute those individuals. If, however, there is sufficient evidence that the cultivation and distribution or sale of marijuana falls outside of the boundaries allowed by state law (growing or selling for non-medical use, for example), then the federal government may still prosecute these individuals without violating the rider.

The court’s ruling isn’t a carte blanche for marijuana cultivation and sales in medical marijuana states, but it prevents the federal government from effectively denying the states the ability to provide medical marijuana where it falls within the bounds of state law.

 



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