By Lanny Swerdlow
The importance of the Shaw case cannot be underestimated on so many different fronts. In a nutshell, Lynette Shaw who opened the first legal medical marijuana dispensary in the world in the small northern California town of Fairfax in 1997, had her collective closed by the maleficently evil US Attorney Melissa Haig in 2012.
She wanted to reopen but was prevented by a permanent federal injunction that had been issued previously forbidding Ms. Shaw from opening a medical marijuana dispensary anywhere in the U.S.A. forever! Ms. Shaw fought back in court and in September the injunction was lifted by Judge Charles Breyer, the same judge that had originally imposed it. She is now free to open her collective again in the welcoming town of Fairfax.
The lifting of the injunction by Judge Breyer was based on the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment to the Department of Justice (DOJ) funding bill. The amendment prevents the DOJ from spending any money enforcing marijuana laws against medical marijuana patients and providers in states that legalized the use of marijuana medicinally.
With a truly off the wall interpretation, the DOJ claimed the amendment didn’t apply to them as the law only prevents them from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.” In a Los Angeles Times article DOJ spokesman Patrick Rodenbush defended their interpretation stating “Consistent with the Department’s stated enforcement priorities, we don’t expect that the amendment will impact our ability to prosecute private individuals or private entities who are violating the Controlled Substances Act.”
Judge Beyer rejected that interpretation as put forth by the U.S. Attorney ruling “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…heavily regulated medical marijuana dispensaries.”
As was intended by Congressmen Farr and Rohrabacher, the DOJ and its agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), can no longer arrest, prosecute, fine and imprison medical marijuana patients and providers who are following state law.
The government has not stated whether it will appeal the ruling and their silence since the ruling is deafening. It is quite possible the Obama Administration will not appeal the ruling which has, through the Cole Memo, already told U.S. Attorneys to stand down in states that have enacted medical and adult-use marijuana laws.
No longer will the Obama Administration need to defend the Cole Memo as they can now fall back on the shock-absorbing argument that due to a bill passed by congress and a court’s interpretation of the bill, they are prevented from enforcing marijuana prohibition laws in states that have legalized marijuana.
The ruling is outlandishly significant in the protections this amendment affords as long as it remains in force. Since it is part of the budget bill, the amendment would have to be passed again every year until Congress takes the far bolder step of removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
Here is the other reason this ruling is so significant. It showcases for everyone to see, including apoplectic law enforcement, that marijuana law reformers have the power to get the United State Congress to do the right thing. The Farr/Rohrabacher amendments in 2014 and 2015 are truly the first time ever that the U.S. Congress has voted on anything that leads the way towards ending marijuana prohibition.
Although the DOJ tried to pull a fast one with their bizarre interpretation of the amendment, they had their face slapped with a dose of reality by Judge Breyer’s ruling. Those DEA agents whose specialty is enforcing marijuana prohibition law might start training for something else or learn how to apply for unemployment.
The political system works and will work for us, but we have to work it to make it work for us. Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr and 217 other Congressional Representatives (170 Democrats and 49 Republicans) who voted to end the funding did so because they no longer fear being called out as soft on crime and losing votes when running for re-election. In fact, many of them know it will gain them far more votes than they will lose.
The amendment and the court ruling in its favor are just one more sign of the progress we are making toward ending marijuana prohibition. Although there may be a few steps backwards, there are way more steps now going forward. The next 12 months will be amongst the most momentous in the history of marijuana prohibition. Don’t sit on the sidelines and watch it unfold – be part of helping it to unfold.
Hear the story of Ms. Shaw’s legal odyssey as told by Ms. Shaw, go to: blogtalkradio.com/marijuananews
To get involved down to the real nitty-gritty politically, consider joining the Brownie Mary Democratic Club. For more information go to: browniemaryclub.org
[ This article was originally published at indybay.org. Image of Lynette Shaw by NBC Bay Area. ]