(NaturalNews) Supporters of medical marijuana have gained an important victory with a federal appeals court ruling that prohibits the Department of Justice (DOJ) from prosecuting medical marijuana growers and users if no state laws are being breached.
A unanimous decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals prevents the DOJ from using federal funds to prosecute those who grow, sell or purchase marijuana, despite the fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
The decision has effectively upheld a 2014 congressional budget ruling that protects states from the DOJ if they try to prevent them "from implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana."
"If the federal government prosecutes such individuals, it has prevented the state from giving practical effect to its law," wrote Circuit Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, member of the three-judge panel.
Ruling favors states' rights
The ruling is not only a significant victory in favor of states' rights, but also for 10 defendants prosecuted under federal marijuana laws who were seeking an appeal.
The 10 defendants – all from Western states in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction – were either indoor growers or medical marijuana store owners. The defendants will now be subject to lower court rulings determining whether they were in compliance with state laws before their charges can be dropped.
The decision should be viewed as only a temporary victory, however. Judge O'Scannlain warned that the ruling does not provide immunity from federal laws, and may be rescinded at a later date.
"Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding," O'Scannlain wrote.
But at least some legal experts view the court's decision as a major step towards marijuana legalization at the federal level. Steve McIntosh, a lawyer for one of the defendants, said that the ruling may represent "the beginning of the end of the federal war on medical marijuana."
Considering the fact that medical marijuana is already legal in half of the United States, and that four states have now legalized recreational marijuana use (with nine more states set to vote on recreational marijuana in November), it would appear that maybe it is time for the federal government to stop wasting taxpayers' money putting legitimate businessmen and ordinary citizens in jail for offenses that most Americans do not view as a crime.