New DoJ medicinal policy gets test case

Posted on May 21st, 2010 by Global Ganja Report and tagged , , , , .

A North San Diego County medical marijuana provider, James Stacy, whose Vista dispensary was raided on Sept. 9 by a multi-agency narcotics task force, will be the first such case to go to trial since the Justice Department issued its new enforcement policy in October. Stacy's trial date is to be scheduled this week at a hearing where Stacy said he will argue that under the new policy he's entitled to admit evidence of compliance with state law—something routinely denied federal defendants.

Stacy's dispensary, Movement in Action, was raided along with more than a dozen other San Diego County dispensaries as part of the so-called "Operation Endless Summer," which resulted in more than 30 arrests. Only Stacy, and one other dispensary operator, Joseph Nunes, were federally charged as a result of the raids. Nunes has since pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison.

"With a new enforcement policy on medical marijuana, the federal government should not be trying this case at all," said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy organization. "At the very least, Mr. Stacy's case should be tried in state court where he's guaranteed a defense against his charges." Because of a US Supreme Court ruling on medical marijuana, defendants are prevented from entering evidence of medical use or state law compliance in federal court. (Gonzales v. Raich, see Washington Post, June 7, 2005)

In Congressional testimony last week, Attorney General Eric Holder reaffirmed that the Obama administration is not interested in using the Justice Department's "limited resources" to prosecute people who are in compliance with their state's medical marijuana laws. Stacy argues that he was in full compliance with state law, but was nevertheless federally charged with cultivation of marijuana, conspiracy to cultivate and sell marijuana, and possession of a firearm, which could result in more than 20 years in prison. The federal government has so far failed to show any evidence of state law violations and has blocked repeated attempts by Stacy's lawyer Kasha Kastillo to try the case in state court.

Another San Diego dispensary operator, Jovan Jackson, was arrested as a result of the September raids and prosecuted by San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in state court. Jackson was acquitted by a jury after a November trial on similar charges. More recently, the San Diego county Board of Supervisors has taken note of the county's failure to gain convictions and decided to regulate medical marijuana distribution in the unincorporated areas of the county. The San Diego City Council is similarly debating a dispensary ordinance. "The move to regulate local medical marijuana distribution is certainly a positive step for San Diego," stated Elford. "However, it begs the question of why Mr. Stacy is still being prosecuted in federal court."

Advocates are urging members of Congress to pass HR 3939, the Truth in Trials Act, which would allow defendants to use a medical or state law defense in federal court. The Truth in Trials Act currently has more than 30 Congressional cosponsors. (Americans for Safe Access, May 18)


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