On Aug. 16, 2016, a federal appeals court banned the Department of Justice from prosecuting medical cannabis cases as long as defendants hadn’t broken state laws.
In USA v. Steve McIntosh, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered the DOJ to prove that 10 currently pending medical cannabis cases in California and the state of Washington violated state medical cannabis laws before the court will proceed with prosecutions.
While cannabis is still listed in Schedule I, categorizing it as a dangerous substance that has no known medical use, Congress passed a spending bill on Dec. 18, 2015, that prohibits the DOJ from spending federal funds to block state-legal medical cannabis laws.
“If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana,” wrote Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, as reported by the Associated Press.
While prosecutors could ask the federal appeals court to reconsider its opinion or petition the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case, advocates are taking the court’s opinion as a sign of legalization’s continued progress.
“This is the beginning of the end of federal prosecutions of state medical marijuana dispensary operators, growers and patients,” said Marc Zilversmit, an attorney representing five individuals who operate cannabis stores and indoor cultivation sites in California.