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Montana's Medical Pot Law Trumped by Federal Law, Court Rules

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 01, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Montana's medical marijuana law doesn't protect pot-smoking patients from federal prosecution, and even a Justice Department memo can't change that, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy dismissed a civil lawsuit brought by 14 Montana medical marijuana patients and providers whose homes and businesses were raided by federal agents last year, the Associated Press reports.

The medical-pot patients and providers were charged under federal laws that prohibit marijuana. But those charges fly in the face of a Justice Department memo that seemed to suggest the feds would not prosecute them, the patients' lawyers argued.

A 2009 memo by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said federal prosecutors would not go after "individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana," according to the AP. Voters approved Montana's medical marijuana law in 2004.

Still, Ogden's memo did not create a legal defense to violating the federal Controlled Substances Act, Judge Malloy wrote in his Jan. 20 decision.

"A reasonable person, having read the entirety of the Ogden Memo, could not conclude that the federal government was somehow authorizing the production and consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes," Malloy wrote, according to the AP.

Malloy also cited the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause, which states that federal laws trump state laws in the event of a conflict. A 2005 Supreme Court decision, Gonzales v. Raich, held that the supremacy clause applies in medical-marijuana cases, Malloy wrote.

That's a potential death sentence for Montana's medical marijuana industry, a patients' lawyer complained to the Gazette. The patients and providers are considering an appeal.

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