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Judge Halts Feds’ Cannabis Case, Citing Rohrabacher-Blumenauer

August 11, 2017
(Nicolas McComber/iStock)
Still need a reason to care about that obscure federal spending provision known as the Rohrabacher–Blumenauer amendment? Here’s one: The congressional measure, currently set to expire next month, may be the only thing keeping a pair of California cannabis growers out of prison.

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the growers, Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore, after raiding their Humboldt County property in 2012. But during the evidentiary process, the two argued that their operation followed California law and thus should be protected from federal prosecution under Rohrabacher–Blumenauer.

A quick refresher: Formerly known as Rohrabacher–Farr, Rohrabacher–Blumenauer is an amendment to a federal appropriations bill that bars the Justice Department from using resources to prosecute state-legal cannabis. In August 2016, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals—which includes cannabis-legal states of California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Arizona, Montana, and Hawaii—ruled that the provision also protects individual businesses that comply with state law.


Federal Court Bars Justice Department From Prosecuting Medical Cannabis

“If DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions,” the court wrote in the 9th Circuit case, US v. McIntosh, “Appellants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law.”

Which brings us back to the Humboldt growers. Following an evidentiary hearing, US District Judge Richard Seeborg determined that Pisarski and Moore were indeed compliant with state law. “Their conduct strictly complied with all conditions imposed by California law on the use, distribution, possession and cultivation of marijuana,” Seeborg wrote. Earlier this week, he halted the federal government’s case against the growers, citing McIntosh.

The defense attorney for the pair, Beverly Hills-based Ronald Richards, told the LA Weekly that the decision was unusual—and may help other cannabis entities going forward. “This is the first time in my 23-year career I’ve had a case stopped because of an appropriations rider,” he said. “It opens the door for people not to get scared.


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Tamar Todd, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s office of legal affairs, told the Weekly that the court’s stay of the case “shows that you can prevail—defendants in federal court could have their prosecutions halted.”

“It’s very encouraging,” she added. “It gives a lot of teeth to Rohrabacher–Farr.”

But while the case is closed for now, the government could seek to reopen it. Judge Seeborg’s stay of the case could be undone if Congress fails to renew Rohrabacher–Blumenauer next month.

US Attorney Jeff Sessions, a strict anti-drug advocate, asked lawmakers in May to end the protection, calling it “unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the [Justice] Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime.” But in late July a Senate Committee OK’d the amendment, adopting it as part of an appropriations bill set for discussion next month.


In Rebuke to Sessions, Senate Committee OKs Medical Marijuana Protections

Crucially, Rohrabacher–Blumenauer in its current form protects only medical cannabis programs—it offers no protection for adult-use cannabis. A nonbinding Justice Department memo issued under the Obama administration says prosecutors won’t interfere with state cannabis systems, but Sessions has said his office is reviewing that guidance.

Sessions also recently sent letters to state officials in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon in what appears to be an effort to show those states’ systems are failing to adequately regulate cannabis markets. Some state officials have since pushed back, accusing the statistics of having been cherry-picked in a deliberate attempt to mislead.

“Honestly it’s hard to take him seriously if he relies on such outdated information,” Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson told the Seattle Times.


State Leaders Respond to Sessions’ Criticism of Legal Cannabis

One Colorado state senator went further.

“Jeff Sessions needs to keep his reefer madness paranoia in Washington DC and let us handle a decision we’ve made,” Sen. Michael Merrifield told a local ABC affiliate. “I think these numbers are exaggerated or pulled out of somebody’s hat.”

Ben Adlin's Bio Image

Ben Adlin

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin

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  • John Pack

    Isn’t Government supposed to work for the people not against them.

    • Apparently not,individuals don’t have the money for lobbyists to mind your interests while industry associations do.No amount of draining the swamp will fix that arrangement.

      • scott belcher

        perfectly stated!…hell, draining the swamp? it is getting worse than ever!..almost all the nominations trump has made have either been fired/quit for unethical crap. and with people like Bannon & Sessions the swamp is overflowing as ever. keep in m ind, these two were in cahoots before the election.(both love white supremist ideals). no wonder Session is pounding on cannabis, and asking for harsher penalties & taking your assets!…he has big ownership in private prisons, he’s opening them back up again and wants them filled up. no wonder 2 of the biggest private prisons gave almost $945,000 to Session re-election campaign!. BANNON AND SESSIONS NEED TO GO!……and we won’t even go into the nutcase we have as a president!

        • stewdad11

          I’m with you on that! It will be a great day for Americans when Sessions and Bannon and Trump gone!

      • Both parties are guilty of surreptitiously enriching themselves with money flowing from those wishing to buy influence and preferential treatment,loss of the gravy train they’ve been riding on for the last eight years is one of the reasons the Democrats are fighting so hard to remove a democratically elected President,like it or not.
        I can sit here and compile a list of both Democrats and Republicans who have sold their vote regardless of their constituents wishes.
        That being said,I disagree with the administration on weed and I wonder what repercussions will be felt by cross border trade once Prime Minister Lollypop finally legalizes pot in the Great White North.

    • Andrew Smith

      Not in today’s world. Now the government works for the corporations with the biggest donations.

      • Kelley Mottola

        Isn’t that the truth. Same with even trying to be a player in this industry! States have made it so, the little guys don’t have a chance. Nothing is about what the people want anymore, all about money….

    • Scooter Bell

      Sen. Michael Merrifield rocks! Amazing how people can close their eyes to facts – Mr. Merrifield seems to have his wide open to the people he represents. At least on this issue… :]

      • justadbeer

        He does rock, but I doubt it’s for the reasons you and I would like to think. Do not for one moment think that this isn’t all about the huge amount of money that the state of Colorado now sees in tax revenues from the now legal sale of MJ. Jeff Sessions is a god damned Hobbit, and it never ceases to amaze me how one demented old coot with tunnel vision can wield so much power and be such a pain in the ass. Trump can’t fire that shitbird soon enough!

      • swagmeister

        he’s too busy opening his pocket!

        • Scooter Bell

          A friend supporting weed is a friend indeed! :]

    • Kenny Hotz

      Before you fail to correctly quote Lincolns Gettysburg address, you should at least try to understand the meaning behind it. That speech was about equality following the civil war, not doing what you think should happen. I am all for legalization, but you stoners need to come up with better arguments if you wish to convince the population. Don’t be lazy. Start by basing it on the constitution and it will resonate with the right. The left doesn’t care about the constitution but doesn’t care about pot either.

      Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a
      new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men
      are created equal.

      Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any
      nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great
      battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a
      final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might
      live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

      But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not
      hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have
      consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will
      little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what
      they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the
      unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It
      is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us —
      that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for
      which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve
      that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall
      have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people,
      for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
      Abraham Lincoln

      November 19, 1863

      • Margie D

        Thank you for putting this out here. I memorized this when I was in grade school. Still resonates today as it did 40 years ago.

      • quirk

        Praise be to Allah and Kenny

    • Kelley Mottola

      Nothing is about what the people want or doing the “right thing” anymore, all about money….Don’t know if we will ever see it fixed. Such a shame, we will be a third world country before long….

      • Sonny Cole

        you are wrong kelley,if the government was smart (oxymoron).

        when they realize how much money there is out there from a plant they will wise up.first we have to do something about
        jeff sessions,he needs to open his mind.

  • thenemo1


    • SRMCON

      In a nutshell you are right, but do you have to SCREAM so loudly. lol

    • quirk


  • familyguy

    The US in the country with the highest prison population in the world! Private prisons are an industry where rehabilitation and early release of prisoner due to good behavior is almost unheard of. They are paid to keep people locked-up. SO MUCH FOR THE LAND OF THE FREE! Keeping cannabis illegal gives the government the right to cease your assets and keep you locked-up, will your kids be next to have their lives ruined by politicians who have nothing to lose and much to gain for keeping our loved ones in prison.


    Just like Mueller is doing in his investigation, follow the money. Until we stop allowing corporations unlimited funding of PACs and lobbyists in DC, our politicians are drinking the cool-aid of Big Business and are making decisions that will line their own pockets, not for the people that elected them. That means big pharma is quite fine with banning all cannabis until it can be FDA regulated, since then only they will have the resources to get something approved. They need to regulate pot like cigs or alcohol. enough people voted for Trump in the hopes he would ‘drain the swamp’, but he actions appear to be just the opposite. The Supreme Court would need to reverse the ‘Citizens United’ decision as a first step to cleaning up the swamp. There is no reason to allow the ruling elite to profit at our expense. This is why the first revolution was fought against England, to remove the bourgeois tyranny that was suppressing the original states of America. Hopefully there is still a chance in the US to make changes. So long we the people have the ability to elect our representatives (which dictators like to eliminate or influence), we have the ability to shape our government. If Trump has brought us one good thing, it is the mobilization of the masses (the progressives) that see how quickly our fundamental rights can be taken from us. I’m not talking just protests, but people attending town hall meetings, getting out there and talking about your government, actually caring and voting about what is right, fighting fake news and propaganda that is so easily created digitally. fight on.

    • stewdad11

      Hell Yeah! Nicely put!

  • Izzat So

    Tenth Amendment. Tenth Amendment. Tenth Amendment.

    • quirk


  • oldironguts

    Sessions…… this hillbilly right out of “Deliverance” aims to dismantle the whole cannabis industry. he’s already going after both medical and recreational cannabis with results already happening, look at banks (eg. PNC) refusing cannabis money for fear of Sessions charging them with money laundering. Get ready……Hard Rain Gonna Fall

    • quirk

      Praise be to Sessions, Allah, oldironguts, Buddah, nochumps, MargieD, Cattle, Kim Korea, KimKatlin Jenner, Wheaties and the alphabet soupers: LBGTQRST.
      You are welcome to your Cuntry!

  • Kristofor Gullickson

    I do not understand the hypocrisy of an all around mess……..The Fed accepts taxes paid to them AND actually spends money on MJ, what about the Fed cases that have people imprisoned within states that are Legal???? I do think that Sessions us just trying to get out of a hell of a lot of work……..It cannot be that hard given examples from our past discretions involving prohibition……..What if MJ was part of a Religion???? What would the Fed have to say about that???? MMJ may be the way to a “Mainstream” Holistic view regarding that very topic……..California has alot of laws that people do not know about………For example, “Robinson v California”……….Strange occurrences, but I think that the State, Local, and Fed are all half-fully have their grubby hands all over MJ issues that they are scrambling to get a grip………Like any snowflake can turn into a Gigantic Snowball, there are to many for them to handle))……….I just think that they want to get it right the first time, avoid any hang ups that may cause injury or death……….Even one life lost, living or dead, is one to many……….With respect, I do understand Sessions, he is an very experienced and intelligent man, he will come around once he is educated about any and all MJ issues………

    • Paul

      I doubt he will do anything reasonable unless he can profit big time from it.

      • Kristofor Gullickson

        You may be right my friend, depending on what you believe “Profit” is defined as according to him……..I have to say that some things are priceless, I do not think all the money in the world can replace love, life, and happiness……..Maybe look at it this way, simply put…….The Indiana Supreme Court has mandated that for certain crimes “Prison” is the last course of events to take place……..Meaning that until all legal courses of action taken, prison is the last stop……..This strict policy, and strict adherence to that offender follow it, is what has been racing the tax payers of Indiana lots of money……..The problem with the Fed, is that they are at a level that only the most serious crimes are being dealt with……..Look at it this way, Cocaine is not even considered a schedule 1 substance……..Hahaha…….The three “Criteria” that must be met to label Cannabis as a schedule 1 substance no lončar apply to Cannabis))………The best thing that the DOJ can do at the very least is have Cannabis rescheduled on the Controlled Substances List……..I am šire that if anyone has half a brain, a bit of money, AND the will or belief in that topic alone, the Supreme Court will have to order that it here done……..The problem with Sessions AND Congress, may be that there is way to much work and way to many hoops to jump through to get it right……..And that, in the eyes of a true Conservative, is enough to know that it might ruin his reputation if he gets in wrong in and way……..All of the issues and implications of Cannabis alone are enough to drive someone crazy let alone having to do the job he was appointed to do………Give it some time, he will come around or it will come around real soon……..thanks for the comment)) 😉

  • swagmeister

    Sessions is an antiquated, out-of-touch Keebler Elf troll.

  • Paul

    Sessons just needs to go the fuck away. He is spewing all sorts of crap, with little to not truth and mixing up the facts. The above article mentions somethigng about an uptick in violent crime, that may be the case but it’s not in any way related to cannabis. He’s a fucking idiot.