Federal Appeals Court Reaffirms Ban On Federal Prosecutions Of State-Legal Cannabis
Chalk Up Another Win For The Medical Cannabis Movement! Yesterday a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot prosecute individuals who stay within compliance with state-level cannabis laws. This ruling is very significant because the DOJ was previously misinterpreting the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which was clearly intended to protect state-legal cannabis business and individuals from prosecution in Federal court. The amendment was written in plain language and explained the intention clearly stating that federal funds cannot be used to stop states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Interestingly, DOJ read that in the narrowest interpretation possible. They felt that the amendment only prevented them from hampering state efforts to craft, pass, and then implement those new laws. Going after and prosecuting businesses and individuals was still totally ok in their minds. It would have to be pure lunacy on the part of the amendment’s creators to intend to allow a State Government to authorize someone to grow cannabis with the intention of having the Federal Government arresting them as soon as they do so. Clearly, they intended the amendment to both allow the creation of new laws, and then also protect the persons who stay within the limits of those laws.
This is not the first time the courts have had to teach the DOJ the simple skill of reading. Just about a year ago, another Federal judge issued a pointed rebuke to the DOJ saying their interpretation of the amendment “defies language and logic, “tortures the plain meaning of the statute”, and is “at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law.” The case was subsequently dropped by the DOJ following this ruling. This court continued to build the mountain of case law around the DOJ and used the plain language of the amendment as the foundation for their new ruling. They literally explicitly referenced dictionary definitions from Merriam-Webster, the American Heritage Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary to give the classic ‘explain-to-me-like-I’m-five’ (ELI5) interpretation to the DOJ. The judges quoted relevant case law regarding how to interpret the language of laws. They note that it is a “fundamental canon of statutory construction” that when interpreting a law’s language, “unless otherwise defined, words will be interpreted as taking their ordinary, contemporary, common meaning.”
This court had been tasked with making the call on if the DOJ has the authority to proceed to prosecute ten cases involving cannabis businesses in Washington and California. This ruling sent these ten cases back to their lower courts to have each case reviewed to check if they were in violation of State law. If there was no violation, we should expect the cases to be dropped. Here’s to another victory for the medical cannabis movement!
Do you think we will finally see the end of Federal prosecutions with this new ruling? Tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook!
Posted In: News
US Senate Appropriations Committee Passes Federal “Get Out Of Jail Free Card” Amendment For State Legal Medical Cannabis Business
Recently the medical cannabis industry was re-issued their yearly metaphorical “get out of jail free card”. This card is not as wonderful as it may at first seem via this classic Monopoly metaphor, as it only strictly offers protection to medical cannabis businesses operating precisely within compliance of state law. This metaphorical card comes from the Federal Congress, and was specifically was offered by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in the form of an amendment to the 2017 Commerce, Justice, Science & Related Agencies Appropriations Act (CJS). Sen. Mikulski believes “the DEA has enough to do keeping illegal drugs out of our country at the border, rather than interfering where a state has determined through an open process that it wants to do these sales.” This amendment was approved by the US Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 21-8 (~73%). This amendment is precisely aimed at stopping the Federal Government from interfering with states’ own medical cannabis programs and “[…]prevent(ing) any of them (44 states and territories listed specifically including Illinois) from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The CJS provides funding to main sections of the Federal government including $29.2 billion in funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ), under which the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) exists. This amendment is also known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, after its House sponsors Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA).
This amendment has been included in the past two CSJ funding bills, which were both passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. This great track record leads most to believe this year will be no different, and this protection for medical cannabis businesses will remain in place. In a legal sense, currently this get out of jail free card has a yearly expiration date, and must be renewed every year as part of the funding bill.
The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment has already had its trial-by-fire last year, in the DOJ’s case against Fairfax-based MAMM (Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana), and its founder Lynette Shaw. In this case the DOJ lost on its own home turf in a Federal court case, in which the presiding Judge Breyer ruled “the plain reading of [Congressional law] forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extent that MAMM operates in compliance with state California law.”(3) The DOJ was forced to lay off Shaw and remove its injunction preventing MAMM from operating, a glimmering crystal clear win for the medical cannabis movement. Shaw was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, “We won the war…and I’m the first POW to be released.” going on to conclude that “the case is precedent-setting. A federal judge has ruled Congressional law means what it was intended to mean — the war on medical cannabis is over.”
While this measure may be a significant win for the medical cannabis movement, the war is not entirely over. By having a measure which must be renewed yearly, the movement is left susceptible to a change in the political landscape. Please lobby your state and federal congressional representatives to take permanent action to ensure the medical cannabis industry can flourish.
Do you think Federal Government will go a step further and pass more sweeping reform legislation like the CARERS Act? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!
Posted In: Cannabis Industry