In 2014 President Barack Obama signed an omnibus budget bill that included a directive, co-authored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Orange County, that denies congressional funding to federal law enforcement crackdowns on pot businesses in states where medical marijuana is legal.
But the feds, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice, kept cracking down, anyway.
This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit doubled down on Rohrabacher's measure, ruling that federal law enforcers must leave state-compliant cannabis concerns alone. It's the law.
The court's ruling was the culmination of a case involving multiple targets of federal law enforcement in California and Washington, who were accused of growing and distributing marijuana.
Writing for a three-judge panel, the Ninth Circuit's Diarmuid O'Scannlain said that federal law "prohibits DOJ from spending funds ... for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by the state medical marijuana laws and who fully complied with such laws."
"This is a major blow
But the case isn't over. The panel said anyone using this defense must be complying with state laws.
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"Individuals who do not strictly comply with all state-law conditions regarding the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana have engaged in conduct that is unauthorized, and prosecuting such individuals does not violate" the omnibus budget law, O'Scannlain wrote.
In fact, the Ninth Circuit sent the case back to the relevant lower courts "to determine whether appellants have complied with state law," according to the ruling.
Still, the marijuana nation is clearly seeing this as a huge victory over what it sees as jack-booted law enforcement thuggery in places, like California, where the law was decided long ago.
"Half of U.S. states already have medical marijuana laws, but some drug war bureaucrats still want to argue about whether cannabis is medicine," Angell said. "This victory for medical marijuana patients is especially significant coming just days after DEA showed just how out of touch with mainstream America it is by refusing to acknowledge that cannabis has proven medical value."