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An opinion today issued in the federal 9th Circuit by a three-judge panel has found that federal prosecutions of medical cannabis defendants may not proceed unless there is a violation of state law. In the opinion of U.S. vs. McIntosh, written by 9th Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, the court held that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment prohibits the federal prosecution of conduct that is allowed by the state's medical cannabis law.
In the opinion, Judge O'Scannlain wrote:
We therefore conclude that, at a minimum, § 542 prohibits DOJ from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the State Medical Marijuana Laws and who fully complied with such laws.
The opinion remanded all of the cases that included in the appellate ruling back to the trial court. If federal prosecutors want to continue pursuing their cases against the defendants, they must prove at an evidentiary hearing that the defendant violated state law.
This circuit-level opinion follows two earlier victories at the the federal district-level in California that also utilized the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. In the cases against the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, Judge Breyer applied the amendment to prevent civil actions against the medical cannabis defendants as long as they were in compliance with state law. With the federal case against Harborside, the feds dropped their appeal, likely fearing that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment would cause them to lose in a binding case.
ASA worked to first pass the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment in 2014 and reauthorize it in 2015. Additionally, ASA first articulate the legal argument that has been used to interpret the amendment. While Judge O’Scannlain stopped short of applying the amendment to prevent raids and arrests, the amendment clearly now prevents federal prosecutions of state legal medical cannabis conduct throughout the 9th Circuit. While this case does not fully apply outside of the 9th Circuit, the majority of federal medical cananbis prosecutions have taken place in there. That means the opinion is not binding outside the 9th Circuit, but it would still be the most instructive case law other federal courts would have to look to.
The amendment remains in effect through September 30, 2016 and must be renewed if Congress passes a new Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations bill for FY2017. The amendment was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee back in May, but the House has yet to vote on the amendment. Congress may pass a Continuing Resolution in lieu of a new appropriations bill, which would retain all of the language from last year's version.