WASHINGTON – A pending federal appeals ruling has many medical and recreational marijuana legal observers speculating over how legislation, sponsored by two California law makers, will be interpreted while others are waiting for the ruling itself.
"The impact of the ruling cannot be determined until the court issues its ruling," California Consumer Affairs Department Deputy Communications Director Veronica R. Harms said in a Northern California Record email interview. "Once the ruling is issued, the bureau will carefully analyze it to determine its impact on the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act."
Other observers say that impact could be broad. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on the case of three Washington residents convicted by a federal jury last year of growing 50 to 100 marijuana plants. The three Washington residents, with prison sentences looming, claim the number of plant were in compliance with the state's medical marijuana law.
While marijuana in some form is legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia, it remains illegal under federal law.
The three Washington residents appealed the federal jury's findings and point to a congressional amendment, sponsored by two California lawmakers, they say should have prevented the U.S. Department of Justice from prosecuting them. The DOJ disagrees but legal observers say the court's ruling could well determine just how far that congressional amendment can go.
The congressional amendment, the Hinchey-Rohrabacher medical marijuana amendment, sponsored by U.S. House California Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) and Sam Farr (D-Carmel), passed the House in June of last year.
“This impressive vote is deeply gratifying," Rohrabacher said in a press release issued shortly after the 242-186 U.S. House of Representatives vote. "It shows the people’s representatives really can reflect the overwhelming sentiment of Americans to do the right thing. Too many patients, for too long, have suffered under a regime that encourages doctors to prescribe opiates rather than the cannabinoids they deem much safer and more effective. It’s the federal government and out-of-control Justice Department enforcers who have acted as the real gateway drug. The good news is that the House of Representatives just took away that deadly connection.”
In October, the U.S. District Court for California's Northern District ruled that the Drug Enforcement Administration's interpretation of the Hinchey-Rohrabacher to be "at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law."
The amendment's 12 sponsors and co-sponsors from nine states claim their legislation bars the DOJ from using Congressional-allocated funds to prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing laws that permit its use, distribution, and possession. The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit is expected to clarify the amendment's reach.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Consumer Affairs will wait and see how the court rules, Harms said.
"The bureau closely watches court rulings and legislation that will have a bearing on how the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act is implemented in California," she said.
The department does not have any insight into how the court might rule at this time, Harms said.
Not everyone is watching that closely.
"We don't follow or have a position re: (sic) medical marijuana," Civil Justice Association of California President Kim Stone said in an email to the Northern California Record.
Procon.org lists 24 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized using marijuana plants for medical purposes. That list does not include states that limit use to the nonpsychoactive marijuana extract, cannabidiol; states that require physicians to prescribe marijuana. Meanwhile, more than a dozen U.S. states either have a measure for votes already on the November ballot or activists are gathering signatures for such a vote.
In California, Adult Use of Marijuana Act likely will be included on the November ballot. That measure makes it legal to anyone at least 21 years old to possess an ounce of marijuana bud or up to four grams of cannabis concentrates and to cultivate up to six plants. The measure also would set up a taxation and regulation system for a recreational marijuana industry.
The 9th Circuit is made up of 15 federal judicial districts that include the Western U.S. states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, in addition to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.