Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment Invoked in Dismissal of Federal Charges Against Two California Cannabis Operators

In 2012, Anthony Pisarski and Sonny Moore, marijuana cultivators operating legally under California law, were raided by federal agents, who seized 327 cannabis plants, firearms, and over $400 thousand in cash. Pisarski and Moore were each charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possession with the intent to distribute.

Five years later, and only days ago, their case was reviewed by the Honorable Richard Seeborg, a California U.S. District Court judge.

Judge Seeborg’s decision blocked federal prosecutors from pursuing claims against Pisarski and Moore, ruling that Pisarski and Moore’s actions were legal in light of California’s laws governing the growth and sale of medical marijuana. In his decision to dismiss the federal prosecutor’s claims, Judge Seeborg expressly stated that “[Pisarski and Moore]’s conduct strictly complied with all relevant conditions imposed by California law on the use, distribution, possession, and cultivation of medical marijuana.”

Pisarski and Moore’s defense was based primarily upon legislation known as the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment, which was passed in 2014 and mandates that federal funds cannot be allocated toward prosecuting individuals following state cannabis laws.

In rendering his trailblazing decision, Judge Seeborg cited United States v. McIntosh, a case heard by the Ninth Circuit last year. In McIntosh, the court confirmed that individuals can be protected from federal prosecution relative to marijuana if they are abiding by the laws of the state in which they are operating. Judge Seeborg’s decision fully embraces the Court’s ruling in McIntosh, marking a significant step forward for those in support of the legalized cannabis industry, as well as those in favor of state autonomy.

This federal court case is particularly interesting in light of the current political climate, as the Trump Administration has issued reports with conflicting views on cannabis, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has articulated his personal distaste for cannabis and its state-level legalization on numerous occasions. Indeed, the Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety recently issued a comprehensive report linking cannabis use to crime.

Pisarski and Moore’s prosecution might only be delayed if Congress allows the Rohrabacher–Farr Amendment to expire. Attorney General Sessions is working to convince legislators to remove these restrictions from the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1st. Judge Seeborg expressly ruled that, if the amendment is removed, federal prosecutors would be able to reopen the case against Pisarski and Moore.

It is worth noting, however, that the amendment has already cleared its first Senate subcommittee, with bipartisan support, and there is more than a glimmer of hope that it will be renewed for the upcoming fiscal year. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as developments occur.