Cannabis has won yet another decisive victory, this time in a federal court. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision that marks a turning point in federal prosecutions of cannabis dispensaries and growers. Despite half the states in the union deciding to buck federal law and allow for the cultivation and distribution of cannabis as part of a medical marijuana program, the Department of Justice has their own agenda. Or they had, at least. The court is forcing the Department of Justice to prove that the cases they have pending against medical marijuana businesses were in violation of state law, before allowing the cases to move forward.
This decision is a huge victory for all marijuana businesses and users who have had to worry about federal prosecution, despite following state guidelines. While more progressive states like Colorado and Washington have decided to bypass federal law and allow cannabis businesses to operate, the DEA and the Justice Department have continued to bring federal level prosecutions against lawfully operating businesses. This is the death blow for federal prosecutions of cannabis businesses. Congress had previously passed legislation preventing the funding of federal prosecutions of lawful businesses, however the Justice Department argued their belief that their law did not apply to individuals who violate federal law.
The court rejected this argument, with Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain writing, “If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by 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.” Fundamentally, the court acknowledged the rights of individuals who obey state law to cultivate and engage in cannabis business.
This announcement comes on the heels of the DEA decision not to reschedule marijuana. Currently marijuana is considered to be a dangerous Schedule 1 drug. It is deemed to have no medical use and a high degree of abuse. Many are calling the DEA’s view a flat-earth perspective, as they deny, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, the numerous medical uses cannabis has.
The current cases that were pending involved five California men who had been running state approved medical marijuana grow facilities and dispensaries. Despite abiding by state law, the DEA went after them anyway. The charges against these defendants has not been dismissed, however, the case has been kicked back to state level courts to determine if any of them violated state law. Judge O’Scannlain did issue a warning that this ruling is not a permanent victory for the medical marijuana movement, as congress can reverse their decisions on medical marijuana and the states’ rights to shape their own laws, regarding marijuana at any time.
Despite warnings from the judge, this should be seen as a major victory for all medical marijuana business owners. With more and more states hopping on the marijuana bandwagon, the need for federal legalization seems to be less important than it once did. As states are taking back their power from the federal government in respect to the war on drugs, federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the DEA are forced to deal with the new realities of the spreading cannabis culture.