DEA Admits Ignorance of Montana Medical Marijuana Law

In 2014, Congress passed the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prohibited the Justice Department from using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. In 2016, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals barred the Justice Department from prosecuting medical marijuana cases if no state laws were broken. How this is to be determined, however, is unclear.

In a comic illustration of the tension between state and federal marijuana law, at a court hearing last week on a 2016 marijuana bust in Montana, a DEA agent admitted that he was unfamiliar with Montana’s medical marijuana laws and did not know how much marijuana the suspect was permitted to have.


U.S. District Court Chief Judge Dana Christensen started the hearing by saying he would allow for a “shifting burden of proof,” asking first for prosecutors to show how the defendants violated the state law; then, if necessary, calling on the defense attorneys to show how their clients were in compliance. He said after the hearing was over that he would make a determination on what each side needed to prove, and whether they met their burden.

Christensen is now on vacation, and it will be another month before the hearing resumes.

Montana has a long, unfortunate history with marijuana prohibition, from its racist beginnings through recent attempts to overturn medical legalization. In 1929, as the Montana government was considering criminalizing marijuana, the Montana Standard reported on testimony in front of the House Health Committee:

“When some beet field peon takes a few rares of this stuff,” explained Dr. Fred Fulsher of Mineral County, “he thinks he has just been elected president of Mexico so he starts out to execute all his political enemies.”


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