An appeals court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot prosecute individuals in violation of federal marijuana laws if they are are actually complying with their state marijuana laws.
On Aug. 16, three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals of the 9th Circuit unanimously clarified a 2014 budget measure which had prohibited the DOJ from using funds to seek charges against individuals who are complying with their state law.
While the U.S. Congress has had this rule on the books for two years, the DOJ had countered that even if they were not allowed to spend money in pursuit of targeting growers and distributors of medical or legalized marijuana in legalized states, they could technically still pursue such charges.
The appeals court ruled that this is not true during while considering 10 cases of California and Washington residents being charged with violating federal marijuana laws. Now, the DOJ must prove that these individuals had violated their state laws.
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Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have some form of legalized marijuana. Nine states may be deciding whether or not to engage in legalization during the November election.
Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, one of the co-sponsors of the original 2014 budget measure, praised the appeals court’s interpretation of the provision.
“I applaud the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for proclaiming the law as it has been intended by congressional legislation,” Rohrabacher told The Huffington Post.
The Republican lawmaker added that he hopes this ruling will put the DOJ “on notice that there should be no more prosecutions and raiding of dispensaries in those states where the state government has legalized medical marijuana.”
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The appeals court’s ruling will have an immediate impact on the Western states but could set a precedent for other courts, the Los Angeles Times reports.
On Aug. 11, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced that marijuana would remain a Schedule I drug, meaning that it is considered illegal for all purposes, USA Today reports.
“There is no evidence that there is a consensus among qualified experts that marijuana is safe and effective for use in treating a specific, recognized disorder,” the DEA stated in the official report.
Chairman Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority blasted the DEA’s decision, warning that it will continue to encourage federal authorities to pursue charges against individuals who are working within the laws of their state:
“A clear and growing majority of American voters support legalizing marijuana outright and the very least our representatives should do is let states implement their own policies, unencumbered by an outdated ‘Reefer Madness’ mentality that some in law enforcement still choose to cling to."