Patients who use medical cannabis under state programs would no longer fear federal prosecution, if a new bill before Congress becomes law.
The bipartisan “Truth in Trials” act, introduced by U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) with more than twenty original co-sponsors, would allow defendants in federal marijuana cases to present evidence that they were in compliance with their state’s medical marijuana law.
Federal rules of evidence currently exclude any type of medical defense to marijuana charges, even when a patient is using cannabis under the direction of a physician and is in compliance with a state’s medical cannabis program. Thirteen states have laws that allow authorized patients to use and possess cannabis, but federal law classifies marijuana as a drug with no accepted medical use.
Farr’s press release quoted the Oakland-based national medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access to explain the importance of the bill:
“The Truth in Trials bill seeks to restore the balance of justice and bring fundamental fairness to federal medical marijuana trials,” said Caren Woodson, ASA’s Government Affairs Director. “This legislation complements the recent Justice Department guidelines for federal prosecutors and is now more necessary than ever.”
While the newly released guidelines from the Justice Depart-ment caution federal prosecutors against bringing cases against individuals operating under state medical marijuana law, those individuals still lack legal protection.
“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 laws,” Rep. Farr said in a statement introducing the bill. “This legislation is about the fair treatment of defendants in medical marijuana trials, plain and simple.”
More than two dozen federal cases involving medical cannabis are currently pending. Because medical cannabis patients and their providers are allowed no medical defense at trial or mention of state law, convictions are nearly assured, and many defendants take plea bargains in an effort to reduce mandatory sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
The fate of Charles Lynch is a case in point. Lynch, a locally licensed medical marijuana provider in Morro Bay, California, was prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to federal prison, even though he had obtained a city business license, complied with local zoning rules, and even been welcomed into the Chamber of Commerce.
“I was denied an affirmative defense despite my strict adherence to local and state medical marijuana laws,” said Lynch, who is currently free on bail pending his appeal. “Passage of this bill will allow jurors to hear the entire story.”
Nearly 40 health organizations and advocacy groups are endorsing the bill, including patient groups such as Americans for Safe Access, National Association of People with AIDS, National Minority AIDS Council, and AIDS Action Council.