Feds Win A Pot Ruling

by Daniel Mintz, December 7, 2011

A series of lawsuits have been filed by medical marijuana advocates attempting to halt an ongoing federal crackdown on dispensaries and a ruling last week favored the feds.

In a federal court case filed by three Northern California dispensaries, a landlord and a patient represented by attorneys from the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), US District Court Judge Sandra Brown Armstrong ruled on Nov. 28 that federal enforcement actions against the state’s dispensaries don’t violate legal standards and are constitutional.

The case involved legal arguments that are similar to those advanced in other lawsuits, including separate ones filed by the NORML attorneys in three other federal districts and another filed by Americans for Safe Access.

Armstrong rejected arguments brought forward by dispensaries targeted for enforcement in Marin and San Francisco, ruling that the plaintiffs have not “demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of any of their claims” because they’ve already been struck down in previous higher court rulings.

One of the arguments in the case — and in others that are active — is that the feds misled people by issuing a memo in 2009 that indicated enforcement resources would be focused on major trafficking operations and not “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.”

Armstrong’s ruling points out that the memo also states that its content “does not alter in any way the department’s authority to enforce federal law” and “does not ‘legalize’ marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law.” The memo further states that it is “intended solely as a guide to the exercise of investigative and prosecutorial discretion.”

“Nothing in (the memo) affirmatively informs medical marijuana growers and distributors that their conduct is legal,” Armstrong wrote in the ruling, referring to the document’s caveats.

She adds, “Even if the Government had affirmatively informed plaintiffs that their conduct was legal — which it clearly did not — any reliance on (the memo) would be unreasonable” because it was directed to U.S. attorneys as a guide, not a statement of policy.

The lawsuit’s claims that rights to due process are being denied were also rejected by Armstrong. She cites a well-known previous high court ruling on claims filed by medical marijuana patient Angel Raich that addressed and dismissed what Armstrong describes as “virtually identical” arguments.

Armstrong also refers to the Raich case as a judicial precedent that negates arguments invoking the Tenth Amendment (which allows self-policing rights to states) and the Commerce Clause.

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