The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit just affirmed a lower court ruling that the federal government can’t prosecute medical marijuana cases in states where it is legal, as long as no laws were broken.
Marijuana, medical or otherwise, still remains illegal under federal law. The three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit has ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide evidence that 10 pending cases in California and Washington violated state medical marijuana laws before proceeding with the cases, ABC News reported Monday.
“If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law,” Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain wrote in the decision. “[B]y which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana.”
Federal prosecutors tried to argue that the law was only meant for the states, not individuals. The court did not agree.
“If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law providing for non-prosecution of individuals who engage in the permitted conduct,” O’Scannlain concluded, as reported by The National Law Journal Monday.
Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia has either fully legalized marijuana or medical use of it.
In December, Congress passed a spending bill that contained language barring the DOJ from interfering with states seeking to implement their own laws regarding medical marijuana.
United States District Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled last October in a case regarding a California-based dispensary, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), which served as the basis for the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision. “[T]he 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,” Breyer ruled.
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