10 May 2016
Federal appeals court expected to rule soon on scope of the law; it ‘would be huge’ if the federal government is prohibited from enforcing medical marijuana law, professor says
SAN FRANCISCO — Rolland Gregg and his family have fought federal marijuana charges for more than three years, arguing that the roughly 70 marijuana plants investigators found on their Washington property were for their own medicinal use and fully complied with state law.
A federal jury last year convicted Gregg, his mother and his then-wife of growing 50 to 100 marijuana plants — amounts their attorney said are in compliance with state medical marijuana law. With prison sentences looming, they have now turned to a recent act of Congress that they say should have stopped the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting them because they were doing what their state allowed. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and the DOJ disagrees with Gregg’s understanding of the new law.
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life when you see the government coming down on you for simply trying to be healthy,” Gregg said.
A federal appeals court is expected to issue a ruling soon on the scope of the law that could pave the way to end or overturn at least six federal marijuana criminal prosecutions and convictions in California and Washington, including Gregg’s, and limit future prosecutions of medical marijuana users and dispensaries in eight Western states that allow them.
At issue is a Congressional amendment that said the DOJ could not use funding Congress allocated to it for 2015 and 2016 to prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing laws that permit its use, distribution and possession.
The amendment’s bipartisan sponsors — California Congressmen Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa,— say it prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting people who are complying with state medical marijuana laws. California and more than 20 other states have legalized marijuana for medical use. The drug, however, remains illegal under federal law.
The DOJ has interpreted the law more narrowly, saying it prevents prosecutors from trying to block state medical marijuana laws or charging state officials who implement them, yet permits U.S. attorneys to go after marijuana dispensaries and growers.
The 9th Circuit is expected to clarify the amendment in appeals by three sets of defendants who have cited it as grounds for judges to dismiss their marijuana charges.
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