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Hawaii Medical Marijuana Laws May Not Prevent Arrest and Conviction for Drug Crimes

In the year 2000, Hawaii was added to the list of states that instituted medical marijuana laws and more states are currently considering similar laws. However, federal law does not legalize any form of marijuana usage, and in the event of a conflict with state laws, the federal laws typically take precedence - potentially with disastrous results to defendants 

A recent California case illustrates how federal charges can potentially override state laws, often with harsher results to the defendant. In July 2012, Huffington Post Los Angeles reported the case of Aaron Sandusky, the operator of several medical marijuana dispensaries that are legal under California law, who was convicted under federal law. He received a sentence of 10 years in prison, but he could have faced life in prison based on Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Mr. Sandusky has since filed an appeal in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeal cites defense evidence that was prohibited by the judge in the original case, including the following:

  • Information pertaining to the conflict between state and federal law
  • Evidence from a pending California State Supreme Court case between Sandusky and the City of Upland
  • Allegations of entrapment based on earlier public statements made by President Obama and Attorney General Holder, saying that federal prosecution of state medical marijuana laws would end

Whether Sandusky will win his appeal based on the above perceived errors in the original trial has yet to be determined. Sandusky has even vowed to defend the California medical marijuana laws based on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the case illustrates the severity of federal sentencing guidelines and the importance of retaining a criminal defense attorney with experience in both state and federal laws who explores every possible approach to helping clients receive the best possible outcome, even when relatively new state laws conflict with federal laws.

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  • HSBA Hawaii State Bar Association
  • Judiciary State Of Hawaii
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  • United States District Court, Northern District of California
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