Court: Feds Can’t Prosecute For Medical Marijuana In States Where It’s Legal

Court: Feds Can’t Prosecute For Medical Marijuana In States Where It’s Legal

By Victoria Kim 08/19/16

The recent ruling only covers medical cannabis, not personal or recreational use.

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Court: Feds Can’t Prosecute For Medical Marijuana In States Where It’s Legal

On Tuesday, a West Coast federal appeals court ruled unanimously that the Justice Department should not be able to prosecute people for medical marijuana in states where it is legal. 

The ruling made by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers nine western states, bars the Justice Department from using federal funding to prosecute people in medical cannabis states, even if they violate federal drug laws.

In 2014, Congress created a budget rule that had the same effect—it prohibited the Justice Department from using federal money to prevent medical cannabis states from “implementing their own state laws.” (However, this only covers medical cannabis, not personal or recreational use.) Seeking to take advantage of the new budget rule, defendants in 10 cases throughout California and Washington sought to have their federal charges dismissed.

The court agreed on Tuesday that the defendants’ charges should be reconsidered, and the cases have been sent back to lower courts to determine whether the defendants were in compliance with state law.

According to SFGate, the Obama administration argued that it can still prosecute people and entities, since it is not directly suing the state. But the court disagreed in the 3-0 ruling, saying the Justice Department “prevents [states] from implementing their laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana by prosecuting individuals.” 

Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote in the ruling: “If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law.”

O’Scannlain clarified that only those who are in compliance with state medical cannabis laws are protected, not those who violate both state and federal laws—meaning these people can still be prosecuted by the federal government.

The Justice Department has the option to request a new hearing or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In states where medical cannabis is legal, the fight for protection from federal interference has been a long struggle. Though raids on marijuana dispensaries are no longer the norm, the federal government still goes after them. This past May, the Justice Department finally gave up trying to shut down Harborside Health Center, known as the largest dispensary in the country, after a four-year legal fight.

So far, 25 U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana to some degree, with more voting on the issue in November. Marijuana for recreational use is legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. This November, California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will vote whether to “legalize it” as well.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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