On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the Department of Justice was intentionally misinterpreting the wishes of Congress. Almost a year ago, the Federal government passed a spending bill (Section 538) that was supposed to keep federal agents from interfering with state-approved cannabis programs.
Conflict ensued as the Justice Department publicly interpreted the ruling as only applicable to state interests, and not to the producers and distributors with their hands on physical cannabis products.
The Department of Justice has continued to conduct raids on dispensaries, collectives, and cooperatives in California, even though they are operating in compliance with voter-approved state laws. Here is Section 538 prohibiting federal spending on legal cannabis programs:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the states of [California and the states with voter-approved cannabis programs], to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The DOJ’s Interpretation of Sec. 538
Even though this amendment passed with the federal spending bill, which is still active, the DOJ was still interfering with California cannabis businesses. The DOJ basically said, “This amendment does not apply to the targeting of individual cannabis businesses, because they are breaking federal law. Shutting down these businesses does not impede state-approved cannabis programs.”
In a ruling released Monday, Senior District Judge Charles R. Breyer disagreed with the DOJ’s interpretation of the budget amendment, and lifted an injunction against Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), a Marin county dispensary still fighting persecution left over from former US Attorney Melinda Haag.
Judge Breyer concluded that the language in Section 538 of last year’s federal spending bill was clearly being violated by the Department of Justice. In a letter from April 8th, 2015, the authors of the amendment, Representatives Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) and Sam Farr (D-Calif.), wrote to then-Attorney General Eric Holder expressing their discontent with the interpretation of Section 538. The letter forcefully proved that the DOJ’s interpretation was ignoring the Congressional Record:
“In fact, a close look at the Congressional Record of the floor debate of the amendment clerkly illustrates the intent of those who sponsored and supported this measure.
Even those who argued against the amendment agreed with the proponents’ interpretation of their amendment.”
–4/8/14 Letter to Att. Gen. Eric Holder, from Reps. Rohrbacher (R-CA) and Farr (D-CA)
Federal Judge Sets the Record Straight
Judge Breyer goes on to point out the lack of substantiative evidence provided by the Government as to why their interpretation is correct. The official DOJ response was that the meaning of the statute clearly favors their actions, and that the government “need not deliver into the legislative history here.” In Monday’s ruling, Judge Breyer fully disagreed.
“It defies language and logic for the Government to argue that it does not ‘prevent’ California from ‘implementing’ its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these same heavily-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries; whether it shuts down one, some, or all, the difference is of degree, not of kind.
And, contrary to the Government’s representation, the record here does support a finding that Californians’ access to legal medical marijuana has been substantively impeded by the closing of dispensaries, and the closing of MAMM in particular.”
-Senior District Judge Charles R. Breyer: Ruling on MAMM vs USDOJ
This ruling in the Federal Court of the Northern California District is a huge step for California and all the other states currently being harassed by federal agents. The Department of Justice is no longer able to institute their own interpretation, and compliant cannabis dispensaries are now free to operate once again. This ruling comes just in time as California begins to implement the new medical laws recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.