Lawmakers in Congress have been briefed on a report that shows the varying interpretation of a medical marijuana protection rider.
Since 2014, Congress has included provisions in appropriations acts that exclude the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) funding from being used to prevent states and jurisdictions from enforcing medical marijuana laws. The provision, which is renewed during every financial year, lists a total of 52 jurisdictions and prevents the Justice Department from taking legal actions against these territories.
A new report, released on Feb. 4, 2022, from the Congressional Research Service (“CRS”), reveals how federal courts have varyingly interpreted the provision. The report discusses in detail the appropriations rider and analyzes its interpretations by courts.
The report includes cases that have played out in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and First Circuit where defendants have brought up the rider before trial, “seeking the dismissal of their indictments,” but the courts have declined to apply it outside the context of the initial criminal prosecution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit interpreted that the provision had no effect on a federal court’s power to restrict the use of medical marijuana as a trial case.
In a 2016 case, judges determined that marijuana-related activity was deemed illegal if the individuals did not strictly comply with all state-level marijuana regulations. As a result, their criminal prosecution would not violate the rider. Through this reasoning, the Ninth Circuit prosecuted two individuals who were smoking while processing medical marijuana cards in a legal state. In the case titled United States v. Evans, the courts found that their personal use of marijuana did not comply with the state’s regulations of being “qualifying patients” and thus continued to face prosecution.
The scope of the appropriations riders was also considered by the First Circuit Court this year in the case United States v. Bilodeau. The judges found that the defendants had violated state law regulations by supplying large quantities marijuana to people who did not qualify as patients under Maine law. The defendants were registered with the state to produce medical marijuana, but the DOJ found that it was in violation of the state’s laws through the excessive distribution, which included other states.
The DOJ urged the court to apply the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning of strict compliance after the defendants sought to invoke the appropriations rider. The court rejected the defendant’s reading stating the defendant’s activities were aimed at supplying to individuals whom the defendant had not thought through and weren’t qualified as patients under Maine’s state laws. The courts also turned down the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning. It noted that the contents of the rider did not require strict compliance with state law and a federal conviction would prevent Maine’s state law from having its intended effect.
It remains unclear whether the differences in reasoning will make a practical difference in federal prosecutions. The report concludes with considerations for Congress. One option involves Congress amending the rider to determine if strict compliance with state regulations is a requirement to stop prosecution under the federal government.
These different ways of interpreting the spending rider illustrate how much trouble multistate operators such as American Cannabis Partners have to go through to avoid running afoul of any laws, including federal ones, in the jurisdictions where they operate.
NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to American Cannabis Partners are available in the company’s newsroom at https://cnw.fm/ACP
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