Judge Limits DEA Interference with State Marijuana Dispensaries

A California federal court ruling will reinforce state power over medical marijuana and inhibit the actions of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Instead of addressing medical marijuana matters with states, the DEA overstepped its measures by obstructing individual dispensaries and patients, as expressed by a court decision from Oct. 19.

According to Senior District Judge Charles R. Breyer from Northern California, who made the ruling, the DEA’s justification for past actions was based on a poor interpretation of last year’s national Rohrabacher-Farr Medical Marijuana Amendment. Breyer described the DEA’s behavior to Time as “def[ying] language and logic.” Under his ruling, the DEA may not handle dispensaries in line with state law or interfere with any state mandates and procedures on medical marijuana; that power belongs to the states.

In San Diego, A Green Alternative was the first provider to receive a license to conduct medical marijuana dispersal and growth. It is one of only two dispensaries currently open in the city. CEO and Chairman of the Board of A Green Alternative Dr. David Blair discussed with the UCSD Guardian some of the problems the dispensary has faced, such as when it lost its ability to grow its commodities due to improper leadership under the city. However, cooperation now exists as the city now provides appropriate addresses to the dispensary where they can legally grow.

Blair indicated that a ballot initiative for next year’s elections provides clear evidence that the industry is progressing.

“If you were to do a little digging, you would see how the law is changing from the federal government all the way through the state and local governments,” Blair stated to the Guardian. “There have been multiple rulings now that favor the medical cannabis industry. In next year’s elections, November 2016, there will be a ballot initiative that will ask the public if they favor legalizing the adult use of cannabis, and that’s likely to pass with 60 percent in favor and 40 percent against.”

He continued by telling the Guardian that the state of California is working on three bills in line with last Monday’s ruling and the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.

“As a result of [the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment], the state of California is working on three bills,” Blair explained. “All three bills, starting with AB-266, [are among] two more companion bills that the governor signed. They regulate the sale, distribution, growth, reduction you name it –of medical cannabis. They also understand, very likely, that the ballot measure will pass with flying colors next year.”

The amendment, which Congress passed with last year’s spending bill, restricts the DEA from interfering with state mandates over medical marijuana. In particular, it prohibits the Department of Justice from using any federal dollars to issue written regulations for medical cannabis to states.

This bill was originally intended to last for one year, but a press release by the Drug Policy Alliance asserted that it may remain.

“Congress is on the verge of renewing it for another year,” the press release stated. “Several spending amendments allowing states to set their own marijuana policies without federal interference have already passed the U.S. House and/or the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

However, the amendment had multiple interpretations. Unlike some lawmakers who saw the amendment as confirmation of state government power over medical marijuana, the DEA construed it as a reason to move past state legislation and enforce shutdown on independent dispensaries. As a result, the department closed a number of California dispensaries, including the state’s first licensed medical cannabis dispensary.

In addition, Blair observed that change might also occur in California detention centers over a high number of petty marijuana-related cases.

“Prisons are filled with minor marijuana drug offenders,” Blair claimed. “That makes no sense whatsoever. And I believe the governor is going to release a number of minor medical marijuana infractions. There is no reason any longer to keep these people in prison once these laws [pass].”

He also confirmed that he is not alone in his beliefs, stating the public as in favor of legalized medical marijuana.

“The landscape has changed dramatically within the six years I have been involved with the industry,” Blair said. “Young people are in favor of it; ill people are in favor of it. The general opinion of the population is changing. Each act Congress acts upon, as well as the state and the city, will continue to advance the movement and will change people’s minds because, really, there is no difference in what [A Green Alternative] dispenses in comparison to a pharmacy. … The pharmacy itself is what we modeled ourselves after.”