Medical Marijuana Victory in 9th Circuit Court Ruling

September 28, 2016

In the continued battle between the federal and state governments regarding the legalization of marijuana, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined in August 2016 that the U.S. Department of Justice cannot prosecute marijuana cases when the defendant has followed medical guidelines under state law. The law also protects growers and dispensaries.

Half of the states in the nation permit medical marijuana usage. Nine additional states, including California, have relaxed laws coming before the voters on the ballot in the upcoming November elections. However, the sale of marijuana is still a federal crime although the DOJ cannot interfere with state regulations of the drug.

The cases before the 9th Circuit related to 10 incidents involving defendants in Washington and California who wanted a dismissal of their federal charges. The Court agreed to the dismissal with the stipulation that the defendants strictly followed all related state laws, which will now be decided by the lower courts.

The ruling went before a three-judge panel, who all agreed despite the conservative views of two of the judges. However, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain opined that the ruling does not keep medical marijuana users from following the law. The ruling occurred just days after the Obama administration opened doors for further research with the drug, including clinical trials and plant growth.

The DOJ countered that they wanted limited prosecution and claimed that the state could still apply their rulings to medical marijuana laws. However, the court felt that this interpretation was a stretch and ruled that it conflicted with the overall tone of the law, citing a rider permitting the use of the drug on an appropriations bill.

However, Congress might later drop the rider, jeopardizing the status of medical marijuana users. The DOJ could again seek prosecution in these cases until the federal government addresses cannabis reform on a more permanent basis.

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