Pubdate: Wed, 21 Oct 2015
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Orange County Register
Author: Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post


WASHINGTON - In a scathing decision, a federal court in California 
has ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration's interpretation 
of a recent medical marijuana bill "defies language and logic," 
"tortures the plain meaning of the statute" and is "at odds with 
fundamental notions of the rule of law." The ruling could have a 
broad impact on the DEA's ability to prosecute federal medical 
marijuana cases going forward.

At issue is the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to last year's government 
spending bill. The amendment, co-sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, 
R-Costa Mesa, lists the states that have medical marijuana laws and 
mandates that the Justice Department is barred from using federal 
funds to "prevent such States from implementing their own State laws 
that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of 
medical marijuana." Pretty straightforward, right?

When the legislation was passed, advocates and lawmakers on both 
sides of the issue agreed that the bill basically prevented the DEA 
from going after medical marijuana dispensaries, provided that such 
dispensaries were acting in compliance with state law. The DEA, 
however, didn't see it that way. In a leaked memo, the Justice 
Department contended that the amendment only prevents actions against 
actual states  not against the individuals or businesses that 
actually carry out marijuana laws. In their interpretation, the bill 
still allowed them to pursue criminal and civil actions against 
medical marijuana businesses and the patients who patronized them.

Justice's reading of the amendment infuriated its sponsors. They 
called for an investigation into the Department of Justice's 
"tortuous twisting of the text" of the bill, saying it violated 
common sense. This week, judge Charles Breyer of the U.S. District 
Court in Northern California agreed.

Rohrabacher applauded the ruling.

"After months of experiencing the Department of Justice's refusal to 
follow the letter and intent of the Rohrabacher-Farr provision, a 
federal court has finally reined them in," Rohrabacher said. "The 
people's representatives in Congress have, on more than one occasion, 
heeded the demands of the American people to allow for the 
possession, cultivation, and distribution of medical marijuana in 
states that permit such activities.

"For the Department of Justice to flout this congressional directive 
is unfathomable. As such, Judge Breyer's rebuke of DOJ's ridiculous 
interpretation of our amendment is most welcomed."

Breyer goes through the arguments against Justice's case, referring 
to the floor debate as well as the plain language of the bill. But, 
"having no substantive response or evidence, the Government simply 
asserts that it 'need not delve into legislative history here' 
because the meaning of the statute is clearly in its favor," Breyer 
writes. "The Court disagrees." He called Justice's interpretation of 
the amendment "counterintuitive and opportunistic."

Seeing it as perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the DEA's 
years-long involvement with California's medical marijuana program, 
medical marijuana advocates are cheering the ruling. "It's great to 
see the judicial branch finally starting to hold the Justice 
Department accountable for its willful violation of Congress' intent 
to end federal interference with state medical marijuana laws," said 
Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority.

Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project agreed. "This is a big win 
for medical marijuana patients and their providers," he wrote in a 
statement, "and a significant victory in our efforts to end the 
federal government's war on marijuana. Federal raids of legitimate 
medical marijuana businesses aren't just stupid and wasteful, but 
also illegal."

The ruling could discourage Justice from creative interpretations of 
the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment going forward, which should let 
medical marijuana businesses and their patients in 23 states breathe 
a sigh of relief.

Lynette Shaw, owner of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the 
dispensary whose case was at issue in the federal ruling, told the 
San Francisco Chronicle that "we won the war. And I'm the first POW 
to be released."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom