Court: Feds Cannot Prosecute Medical Marijuana In States Where Legal

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Above Photo: Beverly Fox, who suffers from severe arthritis and an eye condition similar to glaucoma, puffs on a pipe filled with marijuana. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Kevin Zeese and ten others chained to the Department of Justice protesting prosecution of medical marijuana in states where it was legal.

Kevin Zeese and ten others chained to the Department of Justice protesting prosecution of medical marijuana in states where it was legal.

Note: This prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers is an issue that the medical marijuana movement has been fighting for many years. In 2002, my  fact my first civil resistance that resulted in my arrest was when the attorney general was John Ashcroft and the president was George W. Bush. In 2002 eight states had legalized marijuana. A group of us chained ourselves to the Department of Justice wearing the names of medical marijuana patients around our necks. Ten of us were arrested in Washington, DC. About 40 additional protesters joined us but did not lock themselves to the Justice Department doors. The action in DC kicked off a national day of protest across the nation at 55 DEA offices.

Zeese being arrested for protest at Department of Justice in 2002. The police office is removing a poster of an AIDS patient who used medical marijana.

Zeese being arrested for protest at Department of Justice in 2002. The police office is removing a poster of an AIDS patient who used medical marijana.

We argued that once a state has legalized medical marijuana the federal government should not be prosecuting patients and the providers of their medicine in federal courts. I was quoted at the time saying: “We still hope the federal government will come to its senses. But today we needed to make a statement. We will not go away. We will no longer tolerate any more injustice. We will stand together against [the federal government’s] denial of medicine. And in the end, we will prevail.” 

It was a long process to finally, some 14 years later, to get to the point where the law caught up with reality. Over that time period many people have been seriously injured by federal prosecutions and the fear of federal prosecutions. People have gone to jail. People have been unable to acquire their medicine. But, the medical cannabis movement kept pushing and finally justice has begun to prevail.

We still need the federal government to face up to the reality that marijuana is indeed a medicine that is accepted in treatment in the United States and to not only take marijuana out of the scheducle of drugs in the Controlled Substances Act but make marijuana available as a medicine throughout the United States. And, beyond being a medicine, marijuana is also a drug that adults should be allowed to use in non-medical settings as well. KZ

The unanimous 9th Circuit ruling on Tuesday was issued by a three-judge panel, two of whom are Republican appointees with a history of pro-law enforcement opinions.

The U.S. Department of Justice cannot spend money to prosecute federal marijuana cases if the defendants comply with state guidelines that permit the drug’s sale for medical purposes, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, comes as voters in nine more states will consider allowing the recreational or medical use of marijuana this November.

Twenty-five U.S. states currently allow for medical marijuana. While the sale of the drug is still illegal under federal law, Congress in 2014 passed a budget rule which prohibits the DOJ from using federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state marijuana regulations.

Due to this rule, defendants in 10 cases in California and Washington argued that their federal charges should be dismissed. The 9th Circuit in San Francisco, which covers nine Western states, ruled on Tuesday that the DOJ could not spend money as long as those defendants “strictly complied” with all state regulations.

The appeals court sent the cases back to lower courts to determine if the defendants had complied with state law.

A Justice Department spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

In November California and eight other states will consider whether to allow marijuana for recreational or medical use. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia, already permit it for recreational purposes.

The unanimous 9th Circuit ruling on Tuesday was issued by a three-judge panel, two of whom are Republican appointees with a history of pro-law enforcement opinions.

Despite the outcome, however, Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain wrote that medical marijuana purveyors should not feel immune from federal law.

“Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now,” he wrote, “and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”