An appeals court decision in California has given the owners of the state’s largest dispensary an important legal victory in their battle against the federal government. Jovan Jackson of Answerdam had been convicted of selling marijuana, on the grounds that he could not use state law as a defense. However, an appeals court in San Diego decided that this refusal to consider state law had denied Jackson his right to due process, and the case is now returning to a lower court to be retried.
While this is no guarantee that Jackson and Answerdam will win their case, it is an important acknowledgment of the role that governing state statutes should have in deciding these issues. The federal government’s position, at present, seems to reject any and all attempts by criminal defense lawyers to use state laws which provide for the legal use and distribution of medicinal marijuana as a defense. This is, at least in part, because marijuana is classified under the Controlled Substances Act as being without medical value. However, as I think should be clear to anyone at this point, the scientific understanding of marijuana’s effects was, at that time, relatively limited, and the classification was based on biases of perception more than objective data.
As a strong supporter of the federalist principle, I applaud California for its bold experiment, and I hope Jackson gets a fair hearing this time around.