Tuesday, August 16, 2016

U.S. v. McIntosh (9th Cir. - Aug.16, 2016)

Congress has precluded the federal government from spending money to prosecute individuals on federal drug charges when the conduct of the defendant at issue was permitted by the relevant state marijuana laws.  The Ninth Circuit decides this morning that (1) individuals are entitled to a hearing if they're indicted and claim that their conduct was permitted by state law, but (2) they better be able to prove that they fully complied with state law; otherwise, they're not going to get any relief.

Judge O'Scannlain, who authors the majority opinion, ends his discussion with a practical -- as well as linguistic -- observation.  Don't think that the relevant statute, he says, means that federal law permits or authorizes you to possess marijuana.  It doesn't.  He says:

"To be clear, § 542 does not provide immunity from prosecution for federal marijuana offenses. The CSAprohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession of marijuana. Anyone in any state who possesses, distributes, or manufactures marijuana for medical or recreational purposes (or attempts or conspires to do so) is committing a federal crime. The federal government can prosecute such offenses for up to five years after they occur. See 18 U.S.C. § 3282. Congress currently restricts the government from spending certain funds to prosecute certain individuals. But Congress could restore funding 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. Moreover, a new president will be elected soon, and a new administration could shift enforcement priorities to place greater emphasis on prosecuting marijuana offenses.

Nor does any state law “legalize” possession, distribution, or manufacture of marijuana. Under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, state laws cannot permit what federal law prohibits. U.S. Const. art VI, cl. 2. Thus, while the CSA remains in effect, states cannot actually authorize the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana. Such activity remains prohibited by federal law."

That said, at least for now, if you're fully complying with state law, the states can't prosecute you, and the federal government can't either.