The Rohrbacher-Farr Amendment, first introduced in 2001, wasn’t passed by the U.S. House of Representatives until 2014. As explained by Law Insider, Rohrabacher-Farr:
“prohibits the expenditure of any funds appropriated to the Department of Justice that would prevent States from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. Which really just means that in states where medical marijuana has been legalized, the DOJ cannot spend any money to prosecute a medicinal cannabis entity that is compliant with state law.”
Law Insider explains more: “This federal policy was reinforced by the passage of a 2015 federal budget bill amendment (passed in 2014) known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment that prohibits the use of federal funds to interfere in the implementation of state medical cannabis laws.”
Rohrabacher-Farr is clear- the federal government should not be involved in state-legal medical cannabis investigations/prosecutions, so why are they? Currently happening in Maine, the case of Lucas Sirois, is one that the cannabis industry and community should be following because, though in Maine, we must all be concerned.
Insight into Lucas Sirois, Former Maine Cannabis Caregiver
Attention to Lucas and his case came to me by way of a LinkedIn post from Brett Puffenbarger, that reads:
“Let me tell you about a travesty currently impacting the entire #cannabisindustry…
That has essentially gone unnoticed… or worse, the mainstream media and government’s narrative about it has been accepted by us without question.
From my POV, it’s a travesty on two levels…
The first is the deafening silence by us as an industry about the blatant and willful federal government overreach into a state-legal #cannabis program. (Something we’ve fought and dealt with as a community for years)
The second is the borderline journalistic malpractice of the established cannabis media, which doesn’t look beyond the headlines manufactured by mainstream news to cover the case.
The case I’m referring to is the current set of charges against a Maine man named Lucas Sirois. A legal caregiver in the state who has been painted as a drug kingpin by federal prosecutors and the local news.
The case is complex and reads a bit like a movie script, but like most things in cannabis, the situation isn’t exactly what it appears.
According to prosecutors, Luke was the ringleader of a legal caregiver network that was trafficking their products over state lines and into alternative markets.
Luke is currently facing the following charges:
Conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances, conspiracy to commit money laundering, two counts of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, two counts of bank fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and impede and impair the Internal Revenue Service and tax evasion.
The only problem?
He wasn’t actually involved.
And even if he was, the Federal Government has no right to investigate him.
And particularly no right to investigate him with the level of vigor they did.
You see, the key piece to this case could impact every. Single. Legal. Operator.
I’m no legal scholar, but the simple version of this scenario playing out is that should Luke lose, every compliance issue for every cannabis company would effectively become a federal crime.
It would set a case precedent that nullifies or edits the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment. It could also destroy the last vestiges of the Cole Memo (two of the things keeping the industry and state legal systems afloat).
Should Luke win, it would be case precedent that prevents the raids and investigations we all thought had gone by the wayside after the wave of similar situations that happened in the early days of the California market.
I’ll post a few of the ludicrous MSM articles, as well as the few that actually cover the case properly in the comments below.
What does everyone think?
Is this case worth looking into by the cannabis media?
Is anyone else amazed and enraged this man has been hung out to dry by both the federal government and our own industry/community?
If you’re a cannabis journalist/writer/editor, consider this my open call for you to look into this.”
So here I am, and I wanted to dig into Rohrabacher-Farr, learn about Lucas’s charges, and learn why the cannabis industry as a whole needs to do like the Bluntness says: “pay careful attention to a chilling effect on the cannabis industry.”
This case stems from “weed trafficking“, says Eric Postow, one of the attorney’s on Lucas’s legal team (Lucas’s legal team consists of Eric Postow, Tim Parlatore, and Mark Dion with Parlatore Law Group; Mark helped write the Maine medical marijuana laws as a former state senator.) Eric goes on to say:
“Luke operated as a licensed caregiver in the state of Maine. He was legally permitted to cultivate and distribute medicinal marijuana to patients, dispensaries, and other caregivers. He complied with state law in doing that.”
Lucas, also known as Luke, was charged with several conspiracy charges to which he has pleaded not guilty. The charges are:
- Conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance
- Conspiracy to commit money laundering
- Conspiracy to commit honest services fraud
- Two counts of bank fraud
- Conspiracy to defraud the United States and impede and impair the Internal Revenue Services
The case involves 11 defendants who all pleaded not guilty. The investigation includes the implementation of FBI wiretap- on a state-level case, and the investigation seems to include product theft issues, a human resources issue, maybe even a state police issue. Still, I don’t believe it’s a federal crime issue.
Luke is accused of: “spearheading the illicit sale of more than $13 million in cannabis over a period of six years.” as reported by The Bluntness. They go on to report that: “The not guilty plea comes 16 months after the feds initially disrupted Sirois’s Farmington-based operation and took property, cash, computers, vehicles – even Sirois’s right to use medical cannabis, while he has to wait and see how his fate will play out.”
A Chat with Lucas Sirois’s Legal Team Regarding Rohrabacher-Farr
With the help of fellow cannabis writer Jessica Reilly, the following information was gathered from Lukes legal team regarding Rohrabacher-Farr and the federal government’s involvement in state medical cannabis:
It appears that Luke has been painted as a Drug Kingpin by the federal prosecutors; what is the definition of a Drug Kingpin by the mouth of the law?SEE ALSO
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“There’s no legal definition of ‘kingpin,’ but really the issue here is the federal government is attempting to interpret state law. That’s why the state set up these programs- it should be up to the state to manage its medicinal cannabis program and tell people what their laws and regulations actually mean, not the other way around with the DOJ telling the state what their laws mean. Under Rohrabacher, before the DOJ can even begin prosecuting a state-sanctioned medicinal cannabis business, they have to show that the business is out of compliance with state law. In this case, we believe the evidence we have seen points in the opposite direction, with more evidence being exculpatory and demonstrating that Luke was indeed compliant. The entire notion that Luke was involved in a major conspiracy is flat-out wrong. If that’s true, then the prosecution should be enjoined from spending any further funds on the case against Luke, and it should come to an end. We are currently working on a motion to do that.
All he was was a licensed business operator with a legal cannabis business. The difference is in who’s calling who what. Ask Maine- legal caregiver, ask the federal government he’s the drug kingpin.”
Is there any legal reason that the federal government is involved in this investigation when this is a state case- especially with Rohrbacher-Farr in place?
“That’s the big question. Where we are in public opinion- 68% of Americans are in favor of legal cannabis (PEW). Competing pieces of legislation in Capitol Hill from Democrats and Republicans show the DOJ is out of step with where we are at this point in history in the prohibition of cannabis. It’s just a matter of time before we have descheduling or comprehensive legalization.”
Though this is Maine, should cannabis businesses everywhere in the U.S be concerned with this case? If so, why?
“Absolutely, if you are a cannabis business, Rohrbacher-Farr only protects medicinal cannabis, not recreational adult use. Honestly, it could be argued that all the DOJ needs to do is find anyone within the licensed operators’ network that has potentially done something illegal, for example, someone sells cannabis over state lines and then draw a conspiracy line to the licensed operator and they can go around Rohrbacher-Farr. Anyone looking at this from a legal perspective needs to understand that Rohrbacher-Farr doesn’t just apply later in the game when the DOJ has already kicked in the doors, and the operators are sitting in handcuffs or awaiting trial; it applies at all times. Frankly, the cannabis industry and those who support the industry need to hold the DOJ accountable to Rohrbacher-Farr.”
Where can cannabis businesses learn more about Rohrbacher-Farr, and how can they help enforce it?
“Rohrbacher-Farr comes into effect when the DOJ is expending funds to investigate or prosecute a medicinal marijuana patient, doctor, or business. Attorneys who are working on these types of cases and representing one of the protected classes need to be paying attention to if the DOJ is getting involved (spending money on investigation) if they’re doing their due diligence on Rohrbacher-Farr, and that they can show out of compliance BEFORE spending another dollar on the case, if they can’t, they need to back off. The DOJ should not be allowed to operate in the shadows when dealing with a legal medicinal cannabis entity. Transparency is the best way to ensure they do not violate the rights of those they are investigating as it relates to Rohrabacher.
If they can’t show non-compliance before spending money, they shouldn’t move forward with it. The government should be held to a higher standard.”
Are there any other cases like Luke’s in the U.S that you are aware of? Be it past/present, and can you lead us to those? Where can we read more about those?
“The most famous case on Rohrbacher-Farr is the McIntosh case, which dealt a blow to the DOJ interpretation of the law. It held that compliant medicinal cannabis businesses were protected under Rohrabacher and, therefore, shouldn’t be prosecuted once their compliance was established.
Precedent allows for an evidentiary hearing to establish whether or not there was compliance. In motion, what should happen is an evidentiary hearing, and they show how Luke was compliant. If successful, everything stops.
It’s important that as we observe this case, we think about where we are as an industry, and we have to understand that we have power. $30B nationwide and only going up. States and even the federal government are receiving tax dollars from the sale of legal cannabis. This industry won’t just sit back and say destroy our names and our businesses. The industry has to be unified and stand with businesses who claim that they were compliant with state law but are still the targets of the DOJ. The real sad part here is how far the harm of this investigation has gone. People from other industries supported Luke’s business, from plumbers and electricians to carpenters and the like- his business and many like it act as an economic development program for a rural poor state that needed it. These folks lost money and jobs, and many are rightfully outraged.”
It seems that the federal government wants states to figure out their cannabis programs but also wants to regulate those. It seems that Rohrbacher-Farr is clear: “Division B, section 537 provides that the Department of Justice may not use any funds to prevent implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories.”
So why are they?
I’m not an attorney, and I don’t specialize in cannabis law, so for any questions regarding cannabis laws, be it state and or federal, please consult an attorney/ legal professional in the cannabis space. This article is intended to bring attention to Rohrbacher-Farr and Lucas’s case as it relates to Rohrbacher-Farr, and should not be used as a legal advice document.
*originally written by author and published on Skunk Magazine
Feature Photo Credit: Halt.OrgVERONICA CASTILLO
Veronica Castillo is a writer from Miami, with a pre-Cannabis background in insurance and human resources. Currently, she is a resident of the road exploring all things cannabis and hemp in the United States. You can follow her journey on IG www.Instagram.com/v2_traveling_veg_canna_writer