Pubdate: Wed, 17 Aug 2016
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2016 Associated Press


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday banned the 
Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana cases if no 
state laws were broken.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San 
Francisco ordered the federal agency to show that 10 pending cases in 
California and Washington state violated medical marijuana laws in 
those states before continuing with prosecutions.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but Congress has barred 
the Justice Department from spending money to prevent states from 
regulating the use or sale of medical pot.

Federal prosecutors argued unsuccessfully that Congress meant only to 
bar the department from taking legal action against states and that 
it could still prosecute individuals who violate federal marijuana laws.

The court rejected that, saying that medical marijuana-based 
prosecutions prevent the states from giving full effect to their own measures.

"If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are 
entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct 
was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they 
strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law 
on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical 
marijuana," Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain wrote for the panel.

Federal prosecutors could ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the case 
or petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue. Justice 
Department spokesman Peter Carr said officials are still reviewing 
the decision.

Marijuana activists and lawyers representing medical pot suppliers 
say the ruling is a significant addition to the growing support for 
broad legalization of the drug. Marijuana is legal for medicinal or 
recreational use in 25 states and the District of Columbia. In 
addition, ten states have marijuana legalizations measures on the 
November ballot.

"This is the beginning of the end of federal prosecutions of state 
medical marijuana dispensary operators, growers and patients," said 
Marc Zilversmit, an attorney representing five people who operate 
four marijuana stores in Los Angeles and nine indoor growing sites in 
Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Still, Zilversmit and other medical marijuana supporters said the 
Obama administration and federal authorities are still fighting the 
drug's legalization.

On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that marijuana will 
remain on the list of most dangerous drugs, but said it will allow 
more research into its medical uses.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the agency's decision came 
after a lengthy review and consultation with the Health and Human 
Services Department, which said marijuana "has a high potential for 
abuse" and "no accepted medical use." The decision means that pot 
will remain illegal for any purpose under federal law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom