On Tuesday, a federal appeals court ruled unanimously that the Department of Justice cannot prosecute cannabis growers in states where medical marijuana is legal statewide. This is a major victory, for now, but some are pointing out that it’s only a temporary win.
All the decision does is “temporarily block the DOJ from spending money on medical marijuana prosecutions; it will expire at the end of September, unless extended,” the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. “Congress could restore funding tomorrow, or the next president could reverse the Obama Administration’s détente with state marijuana laws, and prosecutions could re-start.”
While it is certainly a win in the sense that a court has affirmed the rights of cannabis growers in a major way, it’s another win that confirms that no cannabis grower or user is completely safe from the federal government until marijuana is legalized nationwide.
As things currently stand, a federal agency would have to prove that a cannabis grower was not in compliance with state laws in order to go after them.
“What I think will happen is the Feds will be far more cautious about getting involved in state prosecutions. And where they do get involved, if they come in and make an arrest, the criminal defense lawyer can demand that evidentiary hearing and file a motion to dismiss,” Keith Stroup, a legal counsel for NORML, told Motherboard. “The threat of that could discourage the Feds from spending time and resources in the area.”
One of the judges who handed down the decision, Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, clarified that this case does not prevent the government from going after marijuana cultivators in the future.
““To be clear [the amendment] does not provide immunity from prosecution for federal marijuana offenses,” he wrote.
Essentially, we may see marijuana arrests decrease for the remainder of President Obama’s term, but a future president could easily decide to go after marijuana businesses forcefully. With the way courts work, this decision could become a precedent that will help decide future marijuana cases, which would mean less federal interference with marijuana businesses in states that have legalized medical marijuana in the future.
That could mean more research into the medical uses of marijuana in those states and more protection for patients who use marijuana on a regular basis.
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