Court Blocks Federal Prosecution of California Pot Growers
A U.S. District Court this week blocked federal prosecutors from moving forward with their conspiracy case against a pair of Northern California cultivators because the duo was determined to be in compliance with Golden State medical marijuana laws.
Humboldt County growers Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore had already pleaded guilty to federal allegations (conspiracy to manufacture and possess with intent to distribute) but sought an evidentiary hearing based on legislation, first enacted in 2014, that prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from cracking down on cannabis suspects who are otherwise following their state laws.
The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment is a budget rider, co-authored by SoCal U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, that prevents enforcement and prosecution in medical marijuana states by stripping funding for such endeavors.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg on Tuesday stayed the prosecution, so the case is closed unless the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment expires and fails to be re-enacted and federal prosecutors want to resume their case. The defendants' Beverly Hills attorney, Ronald Richards, says: "This is the first time in my 23-year career I've had a case stopped because of an appropriations rider.
"What the court did in this case may be used as a blueprint for other cases," he says. "It opens the door for people not to get scared."
The judge cited United States v. McIntosh, a United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision last year that affirmed a medical marijuana defense for defendants facing federal prosecution in medical states. But experts say that United States v. Pisarski, et al. could help establish such a defense even further.
"It's significant that a federal court ruled that people targeted by feds and in compliance with California's medical marijuana laws ruled in the defendants' favor," says Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "This is the first case I'm aware of where McIntosh was cited and used to full effect."
Pisarski and Moore owned a property raided by feds in July 2012. Authorities said they found 327 marijuana plants, $416,125 in cash, and guns. But during the evidentiary process, the duo argued they were abiding by California laws and that federal prosecutors had no right to continue spending cash on their prosecution under Rohrabacher-Farr.
They argued that the weed was being sold to legit collectives. Judge Seeborg agreed, writing: "Their conduct strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by California law on the use, distribution, possession and cultivation of medical marijuana."
Tamar Todd, director of the Drug Policy Alliance's office of of legal affairs, said the ruling could have ripple effects throughout the West.
"This shows that you can prevail — defendants in federal court could have their prosecutions halted," she says. "It's enjoining the prosecution from being able to spend any more money on this case. It's very encouraging. It gives a lot of teeth to Rohrabacher-Farr."