Judge Throws Out Marijuana Case After Defendants Plead Guilty

By Kelly Burch 08/16/17

The two defendants had been found with 300 marijuana plants and $225,000 in cash on their property.

a gavel and a few nuggets of marijuana

A federal judge stopped the case of two defendants who had pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture and sell marijuana in California, citing an amendment to the federal budget that prohibits the government from using federal funds to interfere in states where medical marijuana is legal. 

“This is a signal that hopefully will go totally across the country—that federal prosecutors should stop wasting their time and start focusing on real criminals,” U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher told the LA Times. Rohrabacher has been vocally opposed to the Justice Department prosecuting marijuana crimes and was instrumental in passing the amendment that derailed this case. 

“My conservative friends like Jeff [Sessions] need to look themselves in the mirror and say, ‘We don’t like these people smoking marijuana, but they do have a right to do it because it’s their lives, not the government’s,’” he said. 

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg said he had to throw out the case because of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment. The amendment was first passed in 2014 and has been renewed every year since. It declares, “None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used…to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Because California has legal medical marijuana, Seeborg dropped charges against Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore, in what seemed to be an open-and-shut case. The two defendants had been found with 300 marijuana plants and $225,000 in cash on the property, as well as gold and guns.

After the men pled guilty, their lawyer requested that sentencing be postponed until it was determined whether the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment would be renewed this year. When it was passed he appealed to the judge, who dropped the charges. 

The attorney, Ronald Richards, said that he emailed other lawyers around the country to let them know about the possible defense in the states covered by the amendment. However, it may be too soon for marijuana advocates to celebrate a legal loophole, considering that other federal judges have denied this type of defense in the past. 

However, Rohrabacher said that the ruling is important to counterbalance the efforts of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who seems eager to prosecute marijuana crimes despite growing public and legal support for the drug. 

“The public is already there,” said the representative. “Our government is supposed to reflect the will of the people and those conservatives who are dedicated to trying to protect adults from themselves have already lost the argument.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.