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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chronic City: 'Truth In Trials' Bill Would Lift Ban On Medical Marijuana Evidence In Federal Court

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2009 at 2:59 PM

Thumbnail image for Medical-Marijuana-sign.jpg
U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-Carmel) and more than 20 bipartisan co-sponsors introduced legislation today that would allow defendants in medical Marijuana cases the ability to use medical evidence at trial, a right they currently do not have.

Due to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Raich, the government has the discretion to enforce federal Marijuana laws even in medical Marijuana states. The Raich ruling also allows federal prosecutors to conveniently exclude evidence of medical use or state law compliance in federal trials, all but guaranteeing convictions of medical Marijuana patients and providers.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder formalized a departure from Bush Administration policy when he issued new guidelines to federal prosecutors discouraging them from prosecuting cases in which patients and providers are "in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws."

Unfortunately, the new DOJ guidelines neither direct U.S. Attorneys to abandon the more than two-dozen pending federal medical Marijuana cases, nor allow defendants the ability to use medical evidence to exonerate themselves.

click to enlarge Rep. Sam Farr
  • Rep. Sam Farr
"This is a common-sense bill that will help stop the waste of law enforcement and judicial resources that have been spent prosecuting individuals who are following state law," Farr said Tuesday. "We need strict drug laws, but we also need to apply a little common sense to how they're enforced. This legislation is about treating defendants in cases involving medical Marijuana fairly, plain and simple."

During the Bush Administration, more than 100 federal cases were prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys against medical Marijuana patients and providers who were prevented from using medical evidence at trial. Deprived of the ability to properly defend themselves, scores of people have been convicted and have received sentences of up to 20 years in federal prison.

While the Justice Department guidelines may result in fewer federal prosecutions, they are unlikely to assist defendants currently being prosecuted, according to medical Marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA).

Underscoring the need for the "Truth in Trials" Act, San Diego U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt, a Bush appointee, recently responded to the guidelines by claiming she still does not have to prove a violation of state law before prosecuting someone under federal law.

"The 'Truth in Trials' Act will restore the balance of justice and bring fundamental fairness to federal medical Marijuana trials," said Caren Woodson, government affairs director with ASA. "This legislation complements the recent Justice Department guidelines for federal prosecutors and is now more necessary than ever."

Photo | Lavocado

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Steve Elliott

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