Medical-marijuana-is-illegal ruling impacts new case, prompts letter to state, federal leaders
Last month, we reported about a medical marijuana court case with blockbuster potential -- a ruling by an Arapahoe County District Court judge that state-legal MMJ is still illicit at the federal level, so all contracts pertaining to it are null and void.
This conclusion has inspired a letter to state and federal officials, including the President of the United States, from a fearful plaintiff (read it below) decrying the possible precedent it sets.
As we've reported, the original case involved a medical marijuana grower who asked not to be named and Blue Sky Care Connection, a dispensary in Littleton. The plaintiff in that matter said he delivered approximately $40,000 worth of MMJ between June and October of 2010 without receiving compensation in the form of either cash or what's referred to in the document as "a potential business partnership."
As such, the grower took Blue Sky to court, with a trial taking place this past April. But in May, rather than weighing in on the basic dispute, Judge Charles M. Pratt ordered the combatants to "file briefs explaining why this Court should not declare the purported contract void as against public policy."
Charles M. Pratt.
As Pratt acknowledged, neither the plaintiff nor Blue Sky "raised the issue of legality." Rather, "the issue was...raised by the Court" to determine if the contract violated public policy.
This last phrase is as loaded as it is important to the judgment. Going way back to Russell v. Courier Printing & Publ'g Co., a Colorado Supreme Court ruling from 1908, to support his view, Pratt argued that "if the disputed contract violates federal law, it would be against public policy and would be void and unenforceable."
With this matter as a backdrop, Pratt determined that the plaintiff and Blue Sky did indeed enter into a contract, and the dispensary breached it. But to cut through the legalese: If the contract involved something illegal, that didn't matter.
Among his assertions:
• Colorado State Law Does Not Create a Constitutional Right for Citizens to Use and Possess Medical Marijuana.
• Possession and use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
• Federal law regarding marijuana preempts state law because Colorado state law creates an obstacle to the full enforcement of federal law.
As such, Pratt determined that "contracts for the sale of marijuana are void as they are against public policy. Accordingly, the contract here is void and unenforceable."
The sweeping nature of Pratt's ruling raised an important question: Would attorneys representing defendants in medical-marijuana lawsuits begin arguing that contracts are unenforceable because the federal government considers all pot illegal?
In a related development, Westword was recently contacted by a plaintiff in a current case. The lawyer for this individual, who requested anonymity, is not allowing the client to speak about the specifics of the case, approving only the following statement: "Employees from an MMJ facility are suing the owners for breach of contract. The employees became concerned for their own case when they saw the ruling for the Blue Sky case in Arapahoe County, where Judge Pratt ruled that MMJ was illegal."
These remarks don't offer any specifics about the dispute, and neither do they confirm or deny that attorneys for the defendants are seeking to void a contract using the Pratt-approved argument. But the implication is strong in the following letter, which, according to the plaintiff, was sent to a number of elected officials at the state and federal level, including Governor John Hickenlooper and President Barack Obama.
Continue to read the letter, see comments from the plaintiff and view the Blue Sky ruling.