Background: In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case known as U.S. v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative (OCBC) that local medical cannabis distribution was illegal under federal law. The OCBC decision dealt a serious blow to medical cannabis patients and providers by declaring that a defendant cannot argue medical necessity or compliance with local or state laws as a defense against federal charges. Because federal medical cannabis defendants have been prevented from using medical necessity to defend themselves at trial, the OCBCdecision has forced dozens of patients to accept plea bargains. Those who chose to fight back and take their case to trial have been summarily refused a defense and consistently convicted as a result. Since the OCBC decision, federal prosecutions of medical cannabis cases have resulted in a total of more than 100 years of imprisonment for patients and their providers.

Findings: Despite the October 2009 Justice Department memorandum to U.S. Attorneys de-emphasizing federal enforcement of cannabis laws in medical cannabis states, the federal government has continued to arrest and prosecute medical cannabis patients. The federal government should, ideally, refuse to enforce federal cannabis laws when medical use is involved and, instead, should let local and state officials enforce violations of their own laws. However, as long as cases involving medical cannabis are prosecuted in federal court, patients and providers should have a right to argue medical necessity or adherence to state law. This right, not currently afforded to federal defendants, is embodied in federal legislation coined the “Truth in Trials” Act.

Position: The “Truth in Trials” Act is a logical and necessary complement to the Obama Administration’s medical cannabis policy guidelines. This federal legislation, which has been sponsored by ASA, would ensure that defendants have the ability to defend themselves and present evidence in federal court that may demonstrate compliance with state or local laws. Until the federal government stops prosecuting medical cannabis cases and develops a comprehensive, sensible policy with regard to this public health issue, patients and their providers need the “Truth in Trials” Act as a means of avoiding unnecessary and unfair imprisonment.