The unanimous opinion in United States v. McIntosh held that a spending rider approved by Congress in 2014 and 2015 prohibits the United States Department of Justice (the Department) from prosecuting marijuana suppliers who fully comply with state laws allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The Department argued that the rider only prohibits litigation against the states themselves, rather than prosecution of individuals who provide marijuana for medicinal purposes, because the language of the rider indicates that the Department may not use appropriated money to prevent states from implementing their medical marijuana laws.
The three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected this interpretation, holding that the rider prohibits the Department from spending funds from relevant appropriations acts for the prosecution of individuals who engaged in conduct permitted by state medical marijuana laws and who fully complied with such laws. Individuals who do not strictly comply with all state-law conditions regarding the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana, on the other hand, have engaged in conduct that is unauthorized. Thus, prosecuting individuals such as these does not violate the rider. However, if the Department wishes to continue these prosecutions, the defendants are entitled to evidentiary hearings at which they may demonstrate that their actions were authorized by state law. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling represents the highest judicial holding that this omnibus legislation does indeed curb federal crackdowns on state-legal medical marijuana programs.
Cara E. Alsterberg,
State and Federal Powers Clash Over Medical Marijuana in United States v. McIntosh, 47 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 89