Now that 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, eight have legalized adult-use, and several others are considering legislation to legalize either adult-use or medical marijuana during the 2017 legislative session, it’s obvious that the end of marijuana prohibition is near. But that doesn’t mean the ongoing conflict between local, state and federal laws has become any less confusing.
Unfortunately for Ted Hicks and Ryan Mears, two marijuana farmers from Sacramento, California, this confusion lead to a military style raid and both men being charged with illegally cultivating marijuana, a misdemeanor, and conspiracy for planning “to commit sales of marijuana,” a felony.
“I told my 2-year-old son to stay upstairs,” said Mears, 35. “When I opened the security door, there were 15 cops with assault rifles drawn, pointed, with their fingers on the trigger, in vests, ski masks. They grabbed me and pulled me out front, put me in handcuffs. There were 20 to 30 officers. My son walked downstairs and my wife had to grab him. They had guns pulled on them. It was real painful.”
Regardless of spending several months working with local regulators to establish what they thought was the legal framework for their business, Big Red Farms, and being considered “shinning stars” for their diligence related to local licensing, Hicks and Mears found themselves at the business end of automatic weapons. A clear sign that they had become victims of the patchwork of marijuana laws adopted by local and state officials across California prior to the passage of Proposition 64.
If found guilty, both men could face up to one year in jail, and pay thousands of dollars in fines and court costs.
The Florida’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has filed a civil lawsuit against the Broward County Commissioner of Elections, after media and news reports revealed that mail in ballots have been sent to voters omitting the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment.
The claim was just filed by NORML’s national vice chairman, Fort Lauderdale attorney Norm Kent, and his law partner, Russell Cormican, on behalf of Florida NORML and Karen Goldstein, NORML Florida’s chair, a West Park, Broward County voter.
The plaintiff’s are seeking a judicial declaration enjoining the Defendant’s from distributing any further ballots, and implementing an emergency plan to issue new ones which insure the inclusion of the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.
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Members of the Nashville metro council and the Memphis city council have given final approval to municipal legislation providing police the discretion to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders.
Nashville city council members voted 35 to 3 in late September in favor of the new ordinance. It provides police the option of issuing $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. By contrast, under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record.
The legislation now awaits action from the city’s mayor, who has pledged to sign the ordinance into law.
Members of the Memphis city council decided this week in favor of a similar measure by a 7 to 6 vote. For the better part of the past year, members of Memphis NORML have spent their time lobbying members of the Memphis city council in support of the policy change. However, the director of the Memphis Police Department remains opposed to the proposal and has indicated that he may instruct his officers to not immediately comply with the new ordinance.
A Republican state lawmaker has threatened to limit funding to the two Tennessee cities if they enact the ordinances into law.
A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, covering nine western states, earlier this week ruled unanimously that the Department of Justice is barred by federal law from prosecuting medical marijuana businesses if those businesses are operating in compliance with state law.
This decision came in an appeal in which the court had consolidated ten different cases from California and Washington, in which the defendants — growers and dispensaries — had argued that their federal indictments should be dismissed because of a current ban, enacted by Congress in 2014, on the use of federal funds to prosecute state-compliant medical marijuana activities. Known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, the language of the enactment said federal funds could not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”
The Department of Justice had argued the ban only precluded their interference with the state governments, and did not ban federal prosecutions against individual defendants. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, and remanded the cases back to the US District Courts for an evidentiary hearing to determine if the individual defendants had in fact acted in compliance with their state medical marijuana laws.
Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, writing for the panel, did warn in his opinion that Congress could restore funding to prosecute these cases “tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.”
Supreme Court justices today declined to consider a 2014 suit challenging the legality of Colorado’s regulations permitting the state-licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults.
Justices decided in a 6-2 vote to reject the lawsuit, filed by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General E. Scott Pruitt, which sought to strike down Colorado’s law on the basis that it is “fundamentally at odds” with the federal Controlled Substances Act. A majority of the Court turned back the petition in an unsigned opinion, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The plaintiffs in the suit now say that they are contemplating filing a similar legal challenge in federal district court.
NORML Legal Counsel Keith Stroup previously described the lawsuit as “more political theater than a serious legal challenge.”