A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill this week designed to create enhanced legal protections for valid medical marijuana patients prosecuted due to conflicting state and federal laws regarding the legality of the substance.
Under the Truth In Trials Act, sponsored by California Democratic Rep. Sam Farr and co-sponsored by other representatives such as Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), state-licensed medical marijuana users would be given the right to provide an "affirmative defense" in the case of a federal prosecution. This effectively allows them to prove that their actions, while illegal at the federal level, were in fact protected under state law.
"Any person facing prosecution or a proceeding for any marijuana-related offense under any federal law shall have the right to introduce evidence demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana, or that the property which is subject to a proceeding was possessed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana," the bill reads.
The legislation also lays out specific language stating that cannabis plants grown legally under state law may not be seized. Under the legislation, marijuana and other property confiscated in the process of a prosecution must also be maintained -- not destroyed -- and returned to the defendant if they are able to prove it was for a use accepted by the state.
The latest version of the Truth In Trials Act comes as federal crackdowns on dispensaries in medical marijuana states continue to surge. Last week, federal officials targeted one of the nation's largest pot shops. The Associated Press reported:
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has threatened to seize the Oakland property where Harborside Health Center has operated since 2006, as well as its sister shop in San Jose, executive director and co-founder Steve DeAngelo said Wednesday. His employees found court papers announcing asset forfeiture proceedings against Harborside's landlords taped to the doors at the two locations on Tuesday.
Read more relevant text from the bill below:
(a) Any person facing prosecution or a proceeding for any marijuana-related offense under any Federal law shall have the right to introduce evidence demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with State law regarding the medical use of marijuana, or that the property which is subject to a proceeding was possessed in compliance with State law regarding the medical use of marijuana.
`(b)(1) It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution or proceeding under any Federal law for marijuana-related activities, which the proponent must establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that those activities comply with State law regarding the medical use of marijuana.
`(2) In a prosecution or a proceeding for a marijuana-related offense under any Federal criminal law, should a finder of fact determine, based on State law regarding the medical use of marijuana, that a defendant's marijuana-related activity was performed primarily, but not exclusively, for medical purposes, the defendant may be found guilty of an offense only corresponding to the amount of marijuana determined to be for nonmedical purposes.
`(c) Any property seized in connection with a prosecution or proceeding to which this section applies, with respect to which a person successfully makes a defense under this section, shall be returned to the owner not later than 10 days after the court finds the defense is valid, minus such material necessarily destroyed for testing purposes.
`(d) Any marijuana seized under any Federal law shall be retained and not destroyed pending resolution of any forfeiture claim, if not later than 30 days after seizure the owner of the property notifies the Attorney General, or a duly authorized agent of the Attorney General, that a person with an ownership interest in the property is asserting an affirmative defense for the medical use of marijuana.
`(e) No plant may be seized under any Federal law otherwise permitting such seizure if the plant is being grown or stored pursuant to a recommendation by a physician or an order of a State or municipal agency in accordance with State law regarding the medical use of marijuana.
`(f) In this section, the term State includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and any other territory or possession of the United States.'