Appearing for the Defendant, $186,416.00: Medical Marijuana, State Law, and the Fourth Amendment

The Ninth Circuit just issued an opinion about the interplay between state law enforcement, federal law enforcement, the Fourth Amendment, and state law.

The LAPD obtained a warrant to search a licensed medical marijuana facility. The LAPD did not, however, tell the judge that the place to be searched was licensed. The search proceeded. Around 209 pounds of marijuana, 21 pounds of hashish, and 12 pounds of marijuana oil were seized along with $186,416.00. The facility wanted the money back, but it had been turned over federal law enforcement and forfeiture proceedings were started. If forfeited, the city stood to gain about 80 percent of the money. The Ninth Circuit The Ninth Circuit’s ruling (pdf) has the full details. This passage seems to sum up the problem and the way in which the LAPD erred.

While there may have been probable cause to search UMCC for a violation of federal law, that was not what the LAPD was doing. Nothing in the documents prepared at the time the warrant was obtained from the state court or in the procedure followed to obtain that warrant supports the proposition that the LAPD thought it was pursuing a violation of federal law. Instead, it sought a warrant from a state court judge, though, as the District Court found, it lacked probable cause for a state law violation and failed to inform the state court judge of relevant facts that supported the conclusion that UMCC was not in violation of state law. The LAPD, a city agency, never initiated the process of seeking a federal search warrant from a federal magistrate or indicated that it was pursuing a violation of federal law.

I defer to Fourth Amendment scholars as to whether this ruling makes sense. Nonetheless, it seems that the federal government’s new policy might mean that state or local government that wants the federal government involved in going after medical marijuana facilities will have to persuade the federal government that a facility is not complying with state law. That requirement seems to match what the Ninth Circuit is saying state and local law enforcement groups should do with state judges in the first place.

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