Pending Marijuana Ruling Could Limit Federal Prosecutions

A man awaiting sentencing following a federal marijuana cultivation conviction is arguing on appeal that a Congressional action should have halted his prosecution long before he was convicted. handcuffs6

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is expected to rule on the case soon, and the outcome could have a significant impact on the future of federal marijuana prosecutions of medical marijuana dispensaries and users in the eight Western states that allow them. It also would overturn or stop half a dozen federal marijuana convictions/ prosecutions in both California and Washington.

Last year, a jury in a Washington state federal court convicted Rolland Gregg, his former wife and his mother for growing about 70 marijuana plants on their property in Washington. The family has insisted in the three years since their arrest that they were doing nothing wrong because that all the marijuana they grew was for the purpose of their own private medicinal use. They insist their actions 100 percent complied with state law. The problem, in the eyes of the government, is that marijuana cultivation is not legal under federal law. So according to prosecutors, it didn’t matter that the actions of Gregg and the others met state law standards. 

The 9th Circuit is not only the biggest federal appeals court in the country, it is also the one that contains the most pro-marijuana states. Our Los Angeles marijuana defense lawyers know a ruling from those justices saying federal prosecutors are barred from enforcing medical marijuana law would be significant. Will it be the absolute last word on the issue? Probably not. But it would be a powerful weapon for defendants facing federal criminal marijuana charges.

The crux of defendant Gregg’s argument is a bipartisan amendment passed by Congress that instructed the Department of Justice not to use money allocated from the federal government in 2015 and 2016 to stop medical marijuana states from implementing laws that allow the drug’s use, possession and distribution.

The sponsors of the bill – a California Republican and Democrat – have said explicitly the intent of the bill was to prevent the DOJ from initiating prosecutions against people who are in compliance with state medical marijuana laws. California and Washington are two of among 20 states that have legalized the drug for medicinal purposes.

Not so fast, says the DOJ. They have interpreted this measure to mean prosecutors are prevented from trying to block state medical marijuana laws or from taking action against state officials who try to put them in place. However, there is nothing in the language of the law, they say, that prevents them from pursuing criminal charges against marijuana growers and dispensaries.

And that’s where Gregg and his family are in trouble.

The 9th Circuit is being asked to clarify the law, and Gregg is among three defendants seeking review, arguing the Congressional action should result in a dismissal of their marijuana charges.

Another defendant is Steve McIntosh, a marijuana dispensary owner from Los Angeles. His permits showed he was in compliance with state law. The most the feds should have been able to do was hand him over to state-level prosecutors. And yet, he was convicted of federal marijuana crimes.

Essentially, federal prosecutors are seeking to override the will of the voters in Washington, California and even Congress. At some point, the courts will need to step in and stop these wasteful and unnecessary actions. We hope that time is now.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

Looming Marijuana Ruling Could Limit Federal Prosecutions, May 2016, By Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press

More Blog Entries:

Rescheduling Marijuana Could Help Researchers, April 22, 2016, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog