Over the course of the past thirty-plus years, America has waged a wasteful and costly war on drugs that has included and specifically targeted the twenty-odd year use of marijuana as medicine. For the past three or four years, President Obama has instructed the Department of Justice to “back off” prosecuting medicinal marijuana growers, distributors, and users in the nearly two-dozen states where the “medicine” is legal. Now, regardless what President Obama directed his DOJ to do to show a modicum of compassion for Americans suffering myriad infirmities and diseases, only Congress can change federal drug laws.
So, despite the President’s instructions to the DOJ, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has not let up in conducting a war on medical marijuana because it was still illegal according to federal law. Now however, a U.S. District Court Senior Judge presiding over a lawsuit against the DEA issued a very stern reproach to the both the DOJ and DEA for violating a relatively new and apparently unknown law.
The reason the group of medicinal marijuana advocates and dispensaries filed suit against the DEA for continual harassment and prosecution was because they had a federal law on their side courtesy of the U.S Congress. That’s right, the Republican majority Congress, very quietly and stealthily, inserted a bipartisan-supported ban on the DOJ and DEA practice of raiding, harassing, and prosecuting medical marijuana providers, growers, and users in states where it is legal.
The stealth law, the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, was inserted in the 1,600-plus page budget last December. The amendment lists the 23 states and District of Columbia that have medical marijuana laws on the books and it mandates that the Department of Justice is barred from using one penny of federal funds to “prevent such States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” For such an important amendment, it is particularly simple, very blunt, and seemingly difficult to misinterpret; except for the fervent “war on drug” soldiers at the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The judge hearing the lawsuit, Charles R. Breyer, is a Senior Judge for the Northern California District and brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Judge Breyer issued a “scathing decision” against the Drug Enforcement Administration’s interpretation of the bipartisan “medical marijuana bill” that he rightly said “defies language and logic.” Judge Breyer also railed on the DEA for “torturing the meaning of the statute that is at odds with the fundamental notions of the rule of law.” The judge’s ruling seriously impacts the DEA’s ability to prosecute federal medical marijuana cases going forward; something that should have come to a screeching halt on the day President Obama signed the budget on December 16th of last year.
When the legislation cosponsored by Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Sam Farr (D-CA) was passed, marijuana advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the issue were certain the bill was clear in fundamentally banning the DOJ and DEA from pursuing medical marijuana dispensaries, growers, and users; provided that all concerned acted in accordance with their respective state laws.
The DEA, however, still entrenched in the Reagan-era war on drugs disagreed with the bill’s authors, the U.S. Congress, and President Obama and came up with a truly bizarre interpretation that Judge Breyer noted “defied logic and language.” In an internal leaked memo, the Justice Department concluded that the amendment “only” prevented raids, arrests, confiscations, and criminal prosecution actions against “the actual states,” not the individuals or businesses that carry out and religiously follow state medical marijuana laws.
In the DEA’s drug warrior minds, the ban on the DOJ and DEA “preventing States from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana” still empowered them with federal authority to pursue “criminal and civil actions against medical marijuana businesses and the patients who patronize them,” as well as the growers who supply them.
As it should have, the DOJ and DEA’s interpretation of the amendment infuriated its sponsors and drove them to call for an immediate investigation into the DOJ’s “tortuous twisting of the text” of the bill, saying it violated common sense. In Judge Breyer’s ruling he wholeheartedly agreed. After carefully going through the arguments against the DOJ and DEA, the Judge said the “floor debates on the amendment” as well as the “plain language of the bill” made any DOJ or DEA interpretation and argument “counterintuitive and opportunistic.”
The Obama administration has been instructing the DOJ to follow something very similar to the new rule over the past couple of years as a matter of policy. But the new amendment approved as part of the spending bill should have codified it as a matter of federal law; Judge Breyer’s ruling two days ago makes it official.
The shift in opinions on the benefits of marijuana as medicine is encouraging, and for the providers, growers, and users in states legalizing access to the weed for medicinal the new law, and Judge Breyer’s decision, removes the specter of being a criminal. Medicinal marijuana advocates cheered the judge’s ruling and believe that it is perhaps “the final nail in the coffin of the DEA’s years-long involvement with California’s medical marijuana program.”
Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority said,
“It’s great to see the judicial branch finally starting to hold the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration accountable for its willful violation of Congress’ intent to end federal interference with state medical marijuana laws.” And Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project agreed that, “This is a big win for medical marijuana patients and their providers, and a significant victory in our efforts to end the federal government’s war on marijuana. Federal raids of legitimate medical marijuana businesses aren’t just stupid and wasteful, but also illegal.”
The congressional sponsors of the amendment are pleased as well with the Judge’s ruling and Representative Rohrabacher stated that, “After months of experiencing the Department of Justice’s refusal to follow the letter and intent of the ‘Rohrabacher-Farr’ provision, a federal court has finally reined them in. Judge Breyer’s rebuke of DoJ’s ridiculous interpretation of our amendment is most welcomed.”
It is welcomed news, and nearly as welcomed as the very rare instance of compassion from Republicans in Congress who were capable of not only doing something positive for ailing Americans for a change, their efforts were aligned with President Obama who for years has believed that using medicinal marijuana should not be a federal crime in states where it is legal.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.