Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Medical marijuana prisoner cites recent Justice Thomas statement questioning federal prohibition in support of sentence reduction

In this post a couple of months ago, I noted Justice Thomas's five-page statement respecting denial of cert in Standing Akimbo v. US questioning whether the Raich decision upholding federal power to prohibit all marijuana activity is still good law.  As noted in this recent Marijuana Moment article, headlined "SCOTUS Justice’s Marijuana Comments Should Help Federal Prisoner Win Freedom, Attorney Says," a high-profile federal prisoner is now using this statement to support his argument for a sentence reduction.  Here are the details:

Lawyers for a man serving time in federal prison for operating a state-legal medical marijuana dispensary are making the case that a U.S. Supreme Court justice’s recent statement denouncing the inconsistencies of federal cannabis policy underscore the need for the relief to be granted to their client.

Luke Scarmazzo, who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison while acting in compliance with California’s marijuana laws, filed a motion for compassionate release in June.  And his legal team recently submitted a supplementary brief that cites statements from one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices, Clarence Thomas.

While the high court recently declined to take up case related to an Internal Revenue Service investigation into tax deductions claimed by a Colorado marijuana dispensary, Thomas issued a statement that more broadly addressed the federal-state marijuana disconnect.

Now, Scarmazzo’s team is arguing that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California should take the justice’s comments into account when considering his motion for compassionate release....  The crux of the new brief from Scarmazzo’s lawyers concerns Thomas’s statement in the unrelated IRS case.

Attorneys asserted that the justice’s comment “is an acknowledgement by the highest court in the land of the monumental change that has occurred throughout the nation in the attitudes and laws governing marijuana, and therefore provides further, compelling, support to the extraordinary and compelling reason the defendant should be eligible for Compassionate Release based on a change in law.”

“While Justice Thomas’s opinion does not embody the resolution or determination in a specific case, his opinion rests upon a solid foundation and is no less applicable to the Defendant’s case,” it continues.  “Thomas felt compelled under the circumstances to expound upon the history and current state of the federal prohibition on cultivation and use of marijuana, the many changes to the laws at the state level, and the contradictory federal marijuana policy that are virtually unsustainable at this point.”

“This court should join the majority of District Courts who have granted Compassionate Release when the law has changed, and reform has occurred.  Since the long sentence is not consistent with the current state of law, or the sentences imposed upon his co-defendants, and since he may provide life saving support to his father, Mr. Scarmazzo should be granted compassionate release.”

Prior related post:

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2021/08/medical-marijuana-prisoner-cites-recent-justice-thomas-statement-questioning-federal-prohibition-in-.html

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