Court: DEA Must Cease Prosecution of Lawful Medical Marijuana Businesses

A federal ruling that the DEA’s prosecution of lawful medical marijuana operations was wrongful could help protect businesses and patients in California.

For nearly two decades, cultivation and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes have been legal in California. However, this has not prevented federal authorities from prosecuting patients, dispensaries and other parties who were complying with local regulations. Fortunately, a new ruling from a federal judge may discourage the prosecution of people who are lawfully using or producing medical marijuana in Redding and other parts of California.

Federal amendment reinterpreted

As The Washington Post explains, the federal prosecution of individuals who are complying with state medical cannabis laws was addressed in an amendment to the 2014 government spending bill. The recent federal ruling considered the Drug Enforcement Administration’s interpretation of this amendment.

The amendment prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with state medical marijuana laws. The intent of the amendment was reportedly to protect lawful medical cannabis patients and operations from DEA prosecution. However, the DEA took the view that the amendment protected the states that passed these laws while excluding the people operating under them. Consequently, the DEA continued prosecuting lawful medical cannabis businesses and users.

The federal judge agreed with the sponsors of the amendment, ruling that the DEA ignored the clear meaning and intention of the legislation. The ruling may prevent the DEA from taking unusual interpretations of this amendment in the future. This, in turn, could limit the organization’s ability to prosecute people who are complying with local medical cannabis laws.

Impacts in California

The Washington Post notes that federal prosecution of lawful medical marijuana dispensaries has long been an issue in California. This recent ruling could provide significant benefits for people involved in these businesses as well as patients who use medical cannabis. Still, the ruling does not offer absolute protection, as people in California can still face penalties for all of the following violations:

  • Possessing medical marijuana without the recommendation or approval of a physician
  • Distributing or selling medical marijuana
  • Cultivating or possessing marijuana in quantities that exceed local or state limitations
  • Failing to comply with city and county regulations, which can be more stringent than state regulations

There is also limited evidence that this ruling could help increase the likelihood of full marijuana legalization. According to The Orange County Register, when California voters considered recreational marijuana legalization in 2010, support for the initiative fell to below 50 percent during the two months before the vote. The stated threat of ongoing federal prosecution was one factor that likely caused this decline. With the recent ruling deterring the DEA from interfering with legal medical marijuana operations, more state residents might support full legalization.

Addressing marijuana-related charges

Despite the recent ruling, people in California should still appreciate the possibility of state or federal prosecution for alleged violations of local medical marijuana laws. Given the serious consequences that can come with a conviction, presenting an effective defense is essential. To this end, anyone charged with violating state marijuana laws should consider discussing the situation and possible legal options with an attorney.