Marin Alliance for Med. Marijuana v. Holder

Decision Date28 November 2011
Docket NumberCase No. C 11–05349 SBA.
Citation866 F.Supp.2d 1142
PartiesMARIN ALLIANCE FOR MEDICAL MARIJUANA, a not-for-profit association; John D'Amato, an individual, MedThrive, Inc., a not-for-profit cooperative corporation doing business as MedThrive Cooperative; the Jane Plotitsa Shelter Trust, a revocable living trust; the Felm Trust, an irrevocable living trust; and the Divinity Tree Patients' Wellness Cooperative, Inc., a not-for-profit cooperative corporation, Plaintiffs/Petitioners, v. Eric HOLDER, Attorney General of the United States; Michelle Leonhart, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Hon. Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Defendants/Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

David M. Michael, Law Offices of David M. Michael, Matthew William Kumin, Kumin, Sommers, LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Plaintiffs/Petitioners.

ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER

SAUNDRA BROWN ARMSTRONG, District Judge.

Three medical marijuana dispensaries, one of their landlords and a medical marijuana patient bring the instant action to challenge recent threats by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) to take legal action against landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries in the Northern District of California. The parties are now before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”), which seeks an immediate injunction to prevent the federal government from arresting, prosecuting, or otherwise seeking sanctions or forfeitures against medical marijuana growers and providers who operate under the auspices of California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996. As will be set forth below, binding Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent foreclose Plaintiffs' claims, and therefore, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for a TRO.1

I. BACKGROUNDA. Statutory Overview

The instant action arises from the tension that exists between federal and California laws governing marijuana use. Before turning to the substantive issues presented in Plaintiffs' motion for TRO, it is useful to first review these distinct statutory frameworks.

1. The Federal Controlled Substances Act

After taking office in 1969, President Nixon declared a national “war on drugs.” Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U.S. 1, 10, 125 S.Ct. 2195, 162 L.Ed.2d 1 (2005) [hereinafter Raich I]. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, also known as the Controlled Substances Act (the Act or “CSA”). Pub.L. No. 91–513, 84 Stat. 1236. “Enacted in 1970 with the main objectives of combating drug abuse and controlling the legitimate and illegitimate traffic in controlled substances, the CSA creates a comprehensive, closed regulatory regime criminalizing the unauthorized manufacture, distribution, dispensing, and possession of substances classified in any of the Act's five schedules.” Gonzales v. Oregon, 546 U.S. 243, 250, 126 S.Ct. 904, 163 L.Ed.2d 748 (2006). The CSA places substances in one of five classifications or schedules, see21 U.S.C. § 812, “based on their potential for abuse or dependence, their accepted medical use, and their accepted safety for use under medical supervision,” Gonzales, 546 U.S. at 250, 126 S.Ct. 904. Substances listed in Schedule I are the most restricted in terms of access and use, while those in Schedule V are the least restricted. Id. In enacting the CSA, Congress was particularly concerned with the need to prevent the diversion of drugs from legitimate to illicit channels.” Raich I, 545 U.S. at 12–13, 125 S.Ct. 2195.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Act, and therefore, is subject to the most restrictions. See21 U.S.C. § 812(c). Although substances on Schedules II through V may be dispensed and prescribed for medical use, [S]chedule I drugs cannot be dispensed under a prescription.” United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Co-op., 532 U.S. 483, 492 n. 5, 121 S.Ct. 1711, 149 L.Ed.2d 722 (2001) [hereinafter Oakland Cannabis]. The inclusion of marijuana on Schedule I reflects the federal government's determination that “marijuana has ‘no currently accepted medical use’ at all.” Id. As such, the federal CSA makes it illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. 21 U.S.C. §§ 841, 844. Further, it is illegal under the CSA to open, use, lease or maintain any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance. Id. § 856(a)(1). The only exception to these prohibitions is the possession and use of marijuana in federally-approved research projects. Id. § 823(f).

2. California's Compassionate Use Act

In contrast to the federal law, California law expressly authorizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which permits seriously ill patients to obtain medical marijuana upon written or oral recommendation of a physician. SeeCal. Health & Safety Code § 11362.5. The Compassionate Use Act provides, in part:

(b)(1) The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 are as follows:

(A) To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person's health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.

(B) To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.

(C) To encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.

Cal. Health & Safety Code § 11362.5(b)(1)(A)-(C). In 2003, the California legislature added the Medical Marijuana Program, id. §§ 11362.7–11362.83, to “address issues not included in the CUA [i.e., Compassionate Use Act] so as to promote the fair and orderly implementation of the CUA.” People v. Wright, 40 Cal.4th 81, 85, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 80, 146 P.3d 531 (2006).

B. Legal Developments

The conflict between the federal CSA and California's Compassionate Use Act with respect to the issue of medical marijuana has spawned several Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit decisions, as well as other litigation. These decisions are controlling with respect to most of the claims alleged in the Amended Complaint filed in this action and otherwise animate the Court's analysis of the issues presented in Plaintiffs' motion for TRO. These cases are summarized below.

1. Oakland Cannabis

In January 1998, the United States brought an action under the CSA in the Northern District of California against the Oakland Cannabis Cultivators Club (“the cooperative”) and its executive director seeking to enjoin them from distributing and manufacturing marijuana. Oakland Cannabis, 532 U.S. at 487, 121 S.Ct. 1711. Judge Charles Breyer granted the Government's motion for preliminary injunction, and later denied the cooperative's motion to modify the injunction to allow for the distribution of “medically necessary” marijuana. Id. The cooperative appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the ruling on the motion to modify the injunction. Id. at 488, 121 S.Ct. 1711. The Ninth Circuit held that medical necessity was a legally cognizable defense and the district court had mistakenly believed it possessed no discretion to issue an injunction more limited in scope than the CSA. Id. In addition, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court should have weighed the public interest and considered factors such as the serious harm in depriving patients of marijuana in deciding whether to modify the injunction. Id.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit, holding that there is no medical necessity exception to the CSA's prohibitions on manufacturing and distributing marijuana. Id. at 490, 121 S.Ct. 1711. In reaching its decision, the Court explained that a necessity defense is inapt where the legislature has made a “determination of values.” Id. With respect to the value of medical marijuana, the Court explained that Congress, in enacting the CSA, had made a legislative determination that “marijuana has no medical benefits worthy of an exception (outside the confines of a Government-approved research project).” Id. at 491, 121 S.Ct. 1711. While some drugs may be dispensed for medical use, the same is not true for marijuana, which, for purposes of the CSA, has “no currently accepted medical use at all.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). Additionally, the Court held that the Ninth Circuit erred in instructing the district court to consider “any and all factors that might relate to the public interest or the conveniences of the parties, including the medical needs of the cooperative's patients” because [c]ourts of equity cannot, in their discretion, reject the balance that Congress has struck in the [CSA].” Id. at 497–98, 121 S.Ct. 1711.

2. Raich I

Four years after rendering its decision in Oakland Cannabis, the Supreme Court again addressed the interplay between the Compassionate Use Act and the CSA in Gonzales v. Raich, another case originating from this District. In that case, plaintiffs-respondents—two California residents who, in accordance with their physician's recommendations used marijuana for serious medical conditions—sought injunctive and declaratory relief prohibiting enforcement of the CSA to the extent that it prevented them from possessing, obtaining, or manufacturing marijuana for their personal medical use. Raich I, 545 U.S. at 7–8, 125 S.Ct. 2195....

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