A judge in San Francisco, in the first known ruling of its kind, has halted federal prosecution of two North Coast marijuana growers because Congress has prohibited the Justice Department from interfering with states’ medical marijuana laws.
Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore pleaded guilty in 2014 to conspiring to possess and grow marijuana on a farm in Humboldt County and faced a three-year prison sentence under federal guidelines. But U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg suspended further proceedings in the case this week and said the prosecution was barred by restrictions Congress first added to the Justice Department’s budget in late 2014, and has renewed ever since.
The restrictions, in an amendment sponsored by Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach (Orange County), forbid department spending that would interfere with implementation of a state medical marijuana law. Last August, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the amendment barred federal prosecution of people who are complying with their state’s medical marijuana law, despite a federal law that forbids use or possession of the drug.
The evidence shows that Pisarski and Moore “strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by California law,” Seeborg said in his ruling Tuesday.
The defendants, who are free on bail, will seek to withdraw their guilty pleas, said Pisarski’s lawyer, Ronald Richards.
“We’re finally seeing the tide turning and the law changing,” Richards said. “I never thought I’d have the right to stop a federal criminal prosecution.”
He said other marijuana defendants in California have challenged their federal prosecutions since the appeals court ruling, but this is the first successful challenge.
The victory will be temporary, though, if Congress allows the budget amendment to expire. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for removal of the restrictions from the budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, and Seeborg said prosecutors could then ask to reopen the case.