June 10, 2020 Top Story

DOJ Can Convict—But Can It Imprison?

Appropriations rider may bar imprisonment for medical marijuana conviction

By Ashlee E. Hamilton

A U.S. court of appeals has held that a person convicted of distributing marijuana may now assert that an annual rider for Congressional appropriations may bar his or her imprisonment. In Sandusky v. Goetz, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit allowed a man who had been sentenced to ten years in prison for operating a medical marijuana company to seek his immediate freedom on this basis. The Tenth Circuit is the first appeals court to address the issue.

The medical marijuana cooperative was convicted to illegal growing and trafficking in California

The medical marijuana cooperative was convicted to illegal growing and trafficking in California

Credit: Aleksandr_Kravtsov | iStockphoto by Getty Images

Medical Marijuana Operator Is Convicted

In 2012, Aaron Sandusky, who was the president of a medical marijuana cooperative known as G3 Holistic Inc., was convicted in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California of two counts of marijuana trafficking in California, where medical marijuana is legal. Sandusky was sentenced to 120 months. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

Sandusky then filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to set aside or correct his sentence in the district court. A section 2255 motion must raise a challenge based on alleged violations of federal law. Sandusky argued that the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment bars his incarceration because the rider prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from using funds to prevent states from “implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” The amendment was first enacted in 2014, two years after his conviction. Because it is temporary, it must be approved each year to remain in effect.

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