Monday, November 02, 2015

225.1 - Good News: DOJ gets slapped down on prosecutions of medical marijuana dispensaries

Good News: DOJ gets slapped down on prosecutions of medical marijuana dispensaries

We'll start with, as is sort of traditional here, with some Good News. And this is on a subject which, as I've said before, is not high  on my list of personal priorities in terms of issues, but I've talked about it several times because the issue keeps coming up.

The issue is marijuana.

Forty states and the District of Columbia now have some version of a medical marijuana law. Some are more expansive than others, some allow its physician-recommended use for more conditions than others, but they have some version of a medical marijuana law. In 23 of those states, the program is considered "comprehensive," with the rest allowing limited access, often for the purposes of medical research.

The point is that support for medical marijuana is effectively a majority position, with uses for the relief or treatment of various conditions increasingly accepted by the medical community.

Legalization of marijuana for personal use is also a majority position according to Gallup, with 58% of Americans supporting it. However, that is not the issue at hand. Medical marijuana is. And that is endorsed by an overwhelming percentage of the populace.

But even with such widespread support for medical marijuana, the federal government refuses to budge. Marijuana is still classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning one "with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

Both of those assertions are false, but that has not kept the Department of Justice from insisting it will continue to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries and users even in states that is legal.

The good news is that the DOJ finally got slapped down.

The case involves the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, located in Marin Country, California. The Alliance has been in a long-running legal battle with the DOJ since opening a medical marijuana dispensary in the wake of California passing its Compassionate Use Act in 1966, which allowed for medical marijuana. The Alliance had lost most of those battles, but last year the legal ground shifted significantly. As part of its budget bill, Congress passed an amendment saying the DOJ cannot use any federal funds "to prevent such States [as had legalized medical marijuana; the legislation included a list of them] from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."

Which seems clear enough - except that the DOJ decided it would interpret the law to mean only that it couldn't act against the state governments themselves, but remained free to go after the dispensaries and users. Doing so, the feds insisted, did not prevent the states from "implementing" their laws.

Happily, that ran headlong into federal district court judge Charles Breyer. In a decision that can only be described as "scathing" or "devastating," he declared the DOJ's argument "defies language and logic," "tortures the plain meaning of the statute," and is "at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law." The government had "no substantive response or evidence," he said, but "simply asserts" its claims.

Sliding over some legal technicalities, the effect of the ruling is to lift the threat of federal prosecution from the shoulders of medical dispensaries and their clients - at least in the region covered by that federal district, which is the northern part of California. However, it is a bigger victory than for just northern California because it's likely to discourage the DOJ from continuing its let's just call it creative interpretation of the law.

My suspicion is that the feds will lay low, will not pursue other prosecutions, while still insisting "All those medical marijuana facilities are illegal, we're just not going after them now. But we could. And we might." Trying, that is, to accomplish by fear what they cannot accomplish by law. Until someday, maybe soon, when some sanity will creep in to the agency.

And that day will be good news.

Sources cited in links:

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