A significant decision was made on Tuesday regarding the future of marijuana in this country. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled that recreational and medical marijuana legal cases cannot be prosecuted using federal funding if the person or business is complying with state laws. This means that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and members of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) cannot use federal money to prosecute anyone not breaking state laws. This is a big decision that will affect many businesses and residents in any 1 of the 25 states where medical marijuana is legal and 1 of the 4 states (and D.C.) where recreational marijuana is legal, including the 9 states voting on whether to legalize this November.
Loose Interpretation of the Rohrabacher Farr Amendment
This decision comes on the back of an earlier ruling made in 2014 known as the Rohrabacher Farr amendment which was supposed to prevent the DOJ from spending federal funds going after those in the marijuana industry complying with state laws. However, DOJ officials interpreted the law a little loosely. A spokesperson for the DOJ told the Los Angeles Times in April this year that the law only inhibited the administration from “impending the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”
A Disagreement with the Department of Justice
The 3-judge panel in the Court of Appeals disagreed with the DOJ’s interpretation of the law. Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote on behalf of the panel, “At a minimum, (the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment) prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.” He went on to say that the only matter the DOJ could pursue would be whether or not an individual or business was complying with state law in regards to use, distribution, possession and cultivation. This would occur by means of an evidentiary hearing in a state court. The Judge stated that Congress can change the law and give funding to the DOJ any time in the future without notice, but for now, it is a win.
Pending Medical Marijuana Legal Cases Dropped
Pending recreational and medical marijuana legal cases are now being dropped with individuals and businesses only needing to prove that they complied with state laws. The DOJ has been kicking down the doors of many businesses in states where marijuana is legal. This ruling sends 10 cases from Washington and California back to trial court where defendants only need to prove that they did not violate any state laws. Many who were imprisoned but didn’t violate state law will now have the opportunity to appeal their verdicts.
Earlier this month, the DEA ruled to keep marijuana listed as a Schedule I drug, making it federally illegal and considered to be in the most dangerous drug category, having no medicinal value. This new ruling at least protects the states that disagree with the DEA findings and allows individuals and businesses to function in accordance with state law without federal interference.