Court orders DEA to stop prosecuting lawful medical marijuana operations

A federal court has ruled that the DEA is violating a federal amendment by prosecuting lawful medical marijuana patients and operations in California.

As most people in Hayward know, medical marijuana is legal in California, but it is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law. Consequently, there are many documented cases of the Drug Enforcement Administration prosecuting California medical marijuana businesses, including ones that observe local laws. However, a recent federal court ruling may limit the DEA's ability to prosecute federal medical marijuana cases in California and other states.

Unsanctioned interference

According to The Washington Post, during the case in question, the federal court reviewed the Department of Justice's interpretation of an amendment included in last year's government funding bill. This amendment instructed the DOJ to stop using federal funding to impede state laws that legalize the use, possession, cultivation or distribution of marijuana.

The DOJ took the interpretation that this amendment protected states but not the individuals or businesses operating within those states. As a result, the DOJ continued prosecuting both businesses and medical marijuana patients for alleged federal drug crimes or civil offenses. The bill sponsors, who disagreed with this interpretation, requested that the issue be reviewed. The federal court concluded that the DEA's policy ignored the intention of the amendment and ultimately violated it.

Anticipated impacts

This ruling is expected to prevent the DEA from prosecuting businesses or people who are complying with local laws in California and other states that allow medical marijuana. This may have an especially noticeable impact here in California. As Time magazine notes, the DEA has already closed several local medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally, including one location run by the state's first licensed dispensary.

Still, medical marijuana patients and business owners should note that this ruling does not discourage the DEA from prosecuting entities that act in violation of local medical marijuana laws. Federal and state authorities may continue sanctioning people or businesses for various infractions, including the following:

Therefore, it remains critical for patients, business owners and anyone else involved in the medical marijuana industry to understand and adhere to the relevant laws.

Defenses for marijuana-related charges

Unfortunately, even with this ruling, many people who are attempting to comply with state laws may end up facing charges over inadvertent mistakes or perceived legal offenses. Given the evolving nature of medical marijuana laws and policy, anyone accused of unlawful possession, cultivation or distribution of this substance should consider seeking legal guidance. An attorney may be able to assist a person in contesting the charges or pursuing the most advantageous resolution possible.