A federal judge ruled Monday that a budget amendment approved by Congress prevents the Department of Justice from taking action against medical marijuana patients and providers who are operating in compliance with state laws.
Northern District of California Judge Charles Breyer
[caption id="attachment_9272" align="alignright" width="240"] Judge Charles Breyer (Photo: Hillary Jones-Mixon / The Recorder)[/caption]
said that by enacting the so-called Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, “Congress dictated…that it intended to prohibit the Department of Justice from expending any funds in connection with the enforcement of any law that interfered with California’s ability” to implement its own state medical marijuana laws. The decision was prompted by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s efforts to shut down the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a prominent San Francisco-area medical marijuana dispensary. Judge Breyer’s ruling is available here.
The Washington Post reports:
When the legislation was passed, advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the issue agreed that the bill basically prevented the DEA from going after medical marijuana dispensaries, provided that such dispensaries were acting in compliance with state law. The DEA, however, didn't see it that way. In a leaked memo, the Justice Department contended that the amendment only prevents actions against actual states -- not against the individuals or businesses or business that actually carry out marijuana laws. In their interpretation, the bill still allowed them to pursue criminal and civil actions against medical marijuana businesses and the patients who patronized them.
The DoJ's reading of the amendment infuriated its sponsors. They called for an investigation into the Department of Justice's "tortuous twisting of the text" of the bill, saying it violated common sense. Yesterday, judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. district court in northern California agreed.
Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project agreed. "This is a big win for medical marijuana patients and their providers," he wrote in a statement, "and a significant victory in our efforts to end the federal government’s war on marijuana. Federal raids of legitimate medical marijuana businesses aren’t just stupid and wasteful, but also illegal."
The ruling could discourage the DoJ from creative interpretations of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment going forward, which should let medical marijuana businesses and their patients in 23 states breathe a sigh of relief.