One step closer to legit

Commentary by R.E. Graswich

Government agents will have fewer excuses to prosecute medical cannabis farmers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers, thanks to a new ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-justice panel effectively barred the Justice Department from working up cases against marijuana industry professionals who follow state regulations. The ruling follows a Congressional directive that prevents Justice Department lawyers from spending money to go after states that regulate the medical product.

Twenty-five states and Washington D.C. allow cannabis under medical or adult-use regulations.

While the ruling confirms the federal government's schizophrenia when it comes to medical cannabis -- only last week, the Drug Enforcement Administration affirmed its vow that marijuana lacked medical benefit and belonged on the forbidden Schedule I drug list -- the 9th Circuit ruling reflects a major institutional shift in favor of cannabis.

Essentially, the new federal philosophy allows states to establish their own rules and regulations surrounding medical cannabis. Growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers shouldn't have to worry about federal prosecutions as long as they follow state protocols.

Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain, one of the most conservative members of the 9th Circuit, wrote, "If the DOJ wishes to continue these prosecutions, Appelants are entitled to evidentiary hearings to determine whether their conduct was completely authorized by state law, by which we mean that they strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by state law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana."

The ruling will likely be the final word on the issue, though the Justice Department can still appeal to the full 9th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

And the ruling does nothing to stop federal cops -- or any other type of cop -- from going after black market growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers who ignore state laws.

The 9th Circuit ruling brings the industry one step closer to the Holy Grail of bank access. The cannabis world can never be considered truly legitimate while banks refuse to handle industry transactions.

Banks fear money laundering allegations and trouble with their charters. Until that fear is erased, cannabis will remain a shadow industry.