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Supplement Perspectives

Court Order Could Limit Federal Heat on Medical Cannabis

Tami Wahl, special regulatory counsel at the American Herbal Products Association, examines a silver lining among the clouds of regulation.

Organizations that distribute medical cannabis in compliance with state laws may face less scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) after a federal court ordered the lifting of an injunction against one of California’s lawful dispensaries.

United States District Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled last month that a provision included in a federal spending bill passed in December 2014 prevents the federal government from prosecuting the California dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM).

The provision, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, prohibits the use of DOJ funds to prevent medical cannabis states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

However, the DOJ interpreted the law as only preventing the department from impeding the ability of states to implement medical marijuana laws, but not preventing prosecution of private individuals or entities violating the Controlled Substances Act. The medical cannabis industry -- in California and other states where it has been legalized -- has faced federal enforcement since 2011, with some dispensaries facing federal forfeiture actions.

The amendments co-sponsors Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) have asserted that the goal was to prohibit DOJ from using federal funds to crackdown on medical marijuana operations in states where it is legal, but DOJ has continued to pursue enforcement actions.

Judge Breyer’s ruling sides with the lawful medical cannabis industry and Reps. Rohrabacher and Farr and could have far-reaching legal impact for medical marijuana dispensaries and users in states where it is permitted.

According to the ruling, the law “forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against MAMM to the extent that MAMM operates in compliance with state California law.”

The mayor of the town where MAMM had operated stated, “MAMM was operating as a model business in careful compliance with its local use permit in a 'cooperative and collaborative relationship’ with the community,” Breyer’s ruling notes.

While the exact ramifications of this ruling remain to be seen, it provides a legal precedent that will likely hamper federal enforcement actions that target state-legal medical cannabis organizations. It will also provide additional legal ammunition for other lawful organizations facing federal action for distributing medical cannabis in states where it is allowed.

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