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MJ Wins in Federal Court

A federal judge handed an important victory to medical marijuana advocates in October.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer

U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer lifted a temporary injunction that blocked a Bay Area medical weed dispensary from selling pot to patients. The ruling means the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and its founder, Lynette Shaw, may resume their business.

More importantly, the decision applied a budget amendment enacted last year by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama. That law was designed to prevent federal law enforcement agencies from impeding legal MMJ, its providers, or its patients.

The injunction, issued at prosecutors’ request, blocked Shaw from opening the doors of her Marin County dispensary. Breyer’s ruling was a big win for her, but also for California and medical cannabis generally.

Preventing DOJ from interfering with state-level MMJ laws

The budget amendment was passed by Congress in 2014 and renewed this year. It seeks to prevent the Department of Justice from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” Lawmakers said they specifically intended to stop U.S. attorneys and the DOJ from targeting dispensaries and growers.

But officials at the DOJ have insisted for months that the law doesn’t apply to criminal investigations or prosecutions because they don’t “impede” the provision of legal MMJ. Lawmakers have roundly rejected that claim and accused the DOJ of brazenly violating federal law.

Breyer backed that position. The DOJ’s reading of the budget amendment, he wrote, “tortures the plain meaning of the statute. It defies language and logic for the Government to argue that it does not ‘prevent’ California from ‘implementing’ its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these same heavily-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries. And contrary to the Government’s representation, the record here does support a finding that Californians’ access to legal medical marijuana has been substantively impeded by the closing of dispensaries, and the closing of MAMM in particular.”

The decision will help the marijuana reform movement

Medical Marijuana SymbolThe decision doesn’t settle the underlying legal case, but it suggests Shaw is likely to prevail, and it provides precedent that could help other dispensaries facing prosecution. Its effects could be felt beyond California.

The Golden State was the first to legalize medical pot, in 1996, and its experiment in drug policy has since spread to 36 other states, including four that now allow recreational weed. California has long been ground zero for the federal government’s effort to defeat MMJ, a campaign that appears to be on its last legs.

Pro-marijuana activists praised Breyer’s opinion.

Ending the federal government’s war on marijuana

“This is a big win for medical marijuana patients and their providers, and a significant victory in our efforts to end the federal government’s war on marijuana,” said Dan Riffle, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project. “Federal raids of legitimate medical marijuana businesses aren’t just stupid and wasteful, but also illegal.”

The fight isn’t over. Other dispensaries still face possible closure, including the world’s largest, the Harborside Health Clinic of Oakland. But the court ruling means these shops have a better shot at surviving.

“It’s great to see the judicial branch finally starting to hold the Justice Department accountable for its willful violation of Congress’s intent to end federal interference with state medical marijuana laws,”said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “I hope the Obama administration takes this ruling to heart and makes sure DEA and federal prosecutors finally stop trying to stand between patients and their medicine.”

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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