Federal Appeals Court Says FU to DOJ

By David Jenison

Federal Appeals Court Says FU to DOJ

Do you remember when Representatives Sam Farr and Dana Rohrabacher passed a bipartisan measure that blocked the Justice Department (DOJ) from spending federal funds to prosecute state-legal dispensaries and patients? Well, apparently the DOJ doesn’t.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit unanimously upheld the 2014 Rohrabacher-Farr amendment reaffirming that the DOJ cannot prosecute patients and providers in compliance with state medical cannabis laws. The DOJ brought 10 cases before the court, which ruled the Justice Department needed to demonstrate violations per state law, not federal. The prosecutors made up their own definitions in an attempt to circumvent the law, which required the court to explain how language actually works.

Per the judges, "It is a 'fundamental canon of statutory construction' that, 'unless otherwise defined, words will be interpreted as taking their ordinary, contemporary, common meaning.'" The judges then broke out entries from various dictionaries (Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Oxford) to explain how the DOJ’s made-up definitions actually have different, unrelated meanings in the English language. 

The cases now return to the trial courts where the DOJ will have to prove state violations.

Rep. Rohrabacher released a statement today, saying, “I applaud the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for proclaiming the law as it has been intended by congressional legislation. The intent of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment that was enacted and is thus now the law of the land dictated that the federal government will not take actions that counteract the state law in those states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana. The court decision today is a victory for states’ rights, the constitutional process of establishing law, and a great victory for men and women across America who are utilizing medical marijuana to deal with a health problem in those states that have legalized the medical use of marijuana. The Justice Department needs to go on notice that there should be no more prosecutions and raiding of dispensaries in those states where the state government has legalized medical marijuana. Finally, this is a freedom issue, and this was a great victory of freedom over nanny-state control of our lives.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Rep. Rohrabacher made such a statement because this isn’t the first time the anti-cannabis crusaders got smacked down. In an unrelated case before a federal court last year, the DEA attempted a similar ploy making up definitions and changing meanings as it seemed fit. Judge Charles Breyer blasted the DEA for breaking interpreting the law in a way the court said “defies language and logic” and “tortures the plain meaning of the statue” with “no substantive response or evidence” in a manner that is “at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law.” Apparently the judge did not clearly express his feelings on the matter so the DOJ naturally attempted to circumvent the law in the same way.

The DEA, not surprisingly, had sought forfeiture action against the defendant allowing it to make a major cash and assets grab. The agency’s haul from forfeiture is 10 times larger than its entire budget, which is why many people believe the agency denied the recent petition to reschedule cannabis based on maintaining its budgets, not on science, justice or common sense.

The 2014 Rohrabacher-Farr amendment specifically says, “None of the funds made available in this [Budget] Act to the Department of Justice may be used, with respect to the… [the medical marijuana states], to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Again and again, the DOJ and DEA claim to misunderstand the simple language in this law. This begs the question, does prohibition make people lazy and dumb, or are these agencies simply breaking the law as they see fit? Or both?

Sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan. 

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