Pages tagged "supreme court"


U.S. Supreme Makes it More Difficult for Federal Judges to Impose Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Federal medical marijuana defendants and those who are particularly vulnerable to federal prosecution can now breathe a little bit easier. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in the case of Alleyne v. United States, which has put juries more in control of mandatory minimum sentencing decisions. The Alleyne Court held that because mandatory minimum sentences increase the penalty for a crime, any fact that is necessary to impose the mandatory minimum must be proven to the jury. This decision will not impact every federal medical marijuana case, but it will raise the burden of proof the federal government must bear in order to impose mandatory minimum sentence on patients and providers.

Legal History

Previously, in Apprendi vs. New Jersey (2000), the Supreme Court ruled that under the Sixth Amendment, any fact which could increase the maximum sentence must fact proven to the jury beyond a reasonable amount. However, Apprendi only applied to statutory maximums rather than mandatory minimum sentences.


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Off to the U.S. Supreme Court We Go

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, last week the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied a petition for rehearing filed be Americans for Safe Access in ASA v. DEA. After more than a decade of legal wrangling with the federal government over the medical efficacy of marijuana and its relative lack of abuse potential, the D.C. Circuit gave great deference to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) position that marijuana has no proven medical value. In doing this, the D.C. Circuit not only ignored voluminous evidence of marijuana’s medical efficacy, but it held the petitioners to a standard above and beyond that advanced by the government itself. Out of thin air, the Court interpreted the phrase “adequate and well-controlled studies” to require FDA-approved Phase II or Phase III studies, rather than the common meaning of the term. A similar such standard as that interjected into the proceedings by the Court at the last possible moment had already been rejected by the same Court and others in the cases of Grinspoon v. DEA, 828 F.2d 881 (1st Cir. 1987) and Doe v. DEA, 484 F.3d 561 (D.C. Cir. 2007).  This, coupled with the failure of the Court even to consider marijuana’s lack of abuse potential, was the basis for ASA’s recent petition for rehearing.



Unfortunately, for medical marijuana patients and others, the extremely small number of active judges on the D.C. Circuit makes rehearing en banc (by the entire circuit) next to impossible. Because there are only eight active judges on the D.C. Circuit, en banc review is extremely rare, with only one petition granted by this Court last year. Thus, the next legal step is to challenge the DEA’s action in the Supreme Court of the United States through a petition for writ of certiorari , which must be filed within ninety days. This opens the possibility for arguments that exceed those allowed under the recently denied petition for rehearing.  It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness of this wrong-headed approach to medical marijuana at the highest judicial level.

Stay tuned for more details on the upcoming appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in ASA v. DEA.