California Cannabis Farmers Hoping Supreme Court Will Hear Corruption Cases

The group is pinning hopes on recent rulings that favored states' rights.

A small cadre of cannabis farmers from the heart of California’s Emerald Triangle, who have been trying for years to expose local corruption through court cases, are now placing their last hopes in the U.S. Supreme Court via a petition that was filed on July 12 and another that their attorney said should be filed by Friday this week.

Mendocino SCOTUS case

The first petition alleges that the plaintiffs – who sued after being denied a legal marijuana cultivation permit in 2018 – were wronged by corrupt local officials, including members of law enforcement. The second case expands on the same themes and asserts that California state officials “turned a blind eye” to the exploitation of marijuana farmers in Mendocino County by police and the district attorney’s office.

Both cases were dismissed by lower district courts, who ruled that civil racketeering cases can’t be brought by marijuana businesses due to the federal illegality of cannabis, a central question that the plaintiffs are now hoping will be reversed by the high court.

There’s a very slim chance the court will agree to hear the dual cases, however. The Pew Trusts estimates there are 7,000-8,000 petitions submitted to the Supreme Court every year, but only about 80 of the cases get heard.

But, on the off chance the court does agree to hear the marijuana cases, the outcome may weirdly be tied directly to the controversial 2022 ruling that overturned the longstanding right to abortion, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org.

That’s because the abortion ruling centered on states’ rights over the power of the federal government, a favored cause among conservative legal scholars and several Supreme Court justices. That same line of reasoning could easily be applied to marijuana laws, since it’s the states that have taken the lead in regulating the cannabis industry for decades now.

That’s why the Dobbs decision was among one of several cited by San Francisco attorney John Houston Scott in his petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of Goosehead Valley Farms and its owners Ann Marie Borges and Chris Gurr.

“Ironically, the best recent decision for us … is Dobbs, the abortion case, because it found that the states, not the federal government, but the states should decide whether abortion is legal or not,” Scott told Green Market Report.

Scott also suggested that comments made by Justice Clarence Thomas in 2021 in a separate cannabis-related tax case, that the federal government’s hands-off approach to the modern cannabis industry may have undermined its own legal standing, could mean there’s an interest by the justices to settle the legal tension between state-legal cannabis markets and federal prohibition.

“It’s possible he could be an advocate for us. He’s also one of these states’ rights federalists,” Scott said. “We’d like to think this might be a chance where the Supreme Court could say, ‘We’re going to apply the same principles of states’ rights and federalism to marijuana laws.'”

Still, Scott admitted there’s about a 1% chance of the court agreeing to hear the case, and said if there’s a takeaway from the situation for the broader cannabis industry it’s that local corruption remains a serious issue for businesses, particularly in California.

John Schroyer

John Schroyer has been a reporter since 2006, initially with a focus on politics, and covered the 2012 Colorado campaign to legalize marijuana. He has written about the cannabis industry specifically since 2014, after being on hand for the first-ever legal cannabis sales on New Year’s Day that year in Denver. John has covered subsequent marijuana market launches in California and Illinois, has written about every aspect of the marijuana trade, and was part of the team that built the cannabis industry’s first-ever trade show, MJBizCon. He joined Green Market Report in 2022.

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