9th Circuit: Feds Can’t Pay to Prosecute State-Sanctioned Marijuana

U.S. prosecutors were dealt a significant blow recently with a decision by justices with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in their decision regarding 10 consolidated appeals of persons facing federal marijuana charges. What the court ruled was that prosecutors can’t use federal tax dollars to prosecute individuals who were acting in accordance with state-approved marijuana laws. marijuanabuds

The ruling follows a 2014 Congressional amendment that strips the Department of Justice of the right to interfere with the state-level implementation of medical marijuana laws. Prior to this, it was not uncommon for federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue those who operated medical marijuana cultivation operations, medical marijuana dispensaries and manufacturers of certain marijuana-infused products.

When this law was passed, numerous people who were being prosecuted by the federal government on these types of charges asked the courts to dismiss their cases, arguing their actions were in compliance with state law. For example, one group of defendants (there were 10 in all in the consolidated appeal) operated a number of L.A. marijuana dispensaries were criminally charged by the feds with distributing more than 100 marijuana plants. The court remanded those consolidated cases back to the lower court for consideration of whether defendants were in fact in compliance with state statutes. If they were, the charges against them should be dismissed. 

How does this affect those in Florida facing marijuana charges? At this juncture, probably not a whole lot. However, the ruling is likely to matter eventually. That’s because first of all, the ruling only covers the 9th Judicial Circuit, which oversees only several states in the Western U.S., including California and Washington state, both of which already have medical marijuana laws. It’s probable that other circuits will, if presented with similar issues, look to the 9th Circuit’s reasoning and base their decisions off that. It’s also possible that federal authorities could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and any decision that court makes would have course have a direct impact on us here in Florida.

However, as our Fort Lauderdale marijuana defense lawyers know, Florida has a very limited medical marijuana law, passed in 2014. The measure allows up to five facilities in the state to dispense high CBD and low THC to treat severe conditions, such as cancer and epilepsy, and terminal conditions in which patients have fewer than 12 months to live. However, the forms of the drug available only include cannabis oil, which can be injected, taken as a pill or consumed by some method other than smoking. Full-strength marijuana as medicine is only available to terminally ill patients.

As it now stands, there are 25 states that allow medical marijuana and four that allow marijuana for recreational use. Nine more states are slated to decide whether to expand their marijuana laws to allow for recreational use this November. In Florida, there is a ballot measure being proposed that would expand Florida’s medical marijuana law. A recent survey indicates 77 percent of Floridians support the measure. If the bill passes, we will likely soon begin seeing more medical marijuana dispensaries opening across the state, and that’s where we’ll see this ruling become particularly relevant.

Still, it should be noted that 9th Circuit justices made it clear that the Congressional action that currently prohibits prosecutors from spending funds from specific appropriations is not permanent. Congress could do an about-face and choose to appropriate funds for such prosecutions whenever they want, though that doesn’t seem likely at this juncture.

Because penalties for marijuana possession – and especially marijuana cultivation and sale – continue to be extremely harsh here in Florida, those arrested on marijuana-related charges need to contact an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

U.S. prosecutors dealt setback in medical marijuana cases, Aug. 17, 2016, By Dan Levine, Reuters

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$30,000 Settlement for Wrongful Arrest in Lauderdale Ecstasy Case, July 31, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Marijuana Defense Attorney Blog