A federal court has ruled that California regulators must comply with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) subpoena demanding information about marijuana businesses.
DEA initially asked for unredacted documents concerning three licensed cannabis distributors and people associated with the businesses last year. But when officials with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control didn’t turn them over, the federal agency issued the subpoena in January. The state declined to comply, prompting the feds to take the dispute to court.
California officials argued that DEA failed to adequately explain the relevance to an investigation and providing the documents would violate state privacy laws. In response, the agency disclosed in a court filing last month that it the materials were relevant to an ongoing investigation into possible illegal importation and transportation of marijuana oil from Mexico by certain licensees.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Lopez sided with DEA on Monday, finding that the agency’s subpoena met the requirements for an enforceable request.
“The Court finds that the United States has sufficiently established the relevancy of the subpoena to meet the ‘not especially constraining’ standard,” the judge wrote in an order. “The Court does not find that the subpoena is too indefinite or broad.”
“The Court finds that the records sought in the subpoena—’all documents including unredacted cannabis license(s), unredacted cannabis license application(s), and unredacted shipping manifest(s)’—are relevant to an investigation into importation or transportation of marijuana ‘crude oil’ from Mexico by specific licensees. The Court thus finds that the subpoena and the communication between the agencies together are sufficient to establish the relevance of the requested records to the investigation.”
It’s not clear if the state will appeal the decision.
The targeted cannabis businesses and owners have not been named in documents that have been publicly released in the case.
This latest development in the legal dispute comes three months after a Justice Department whistleblower accused Attorney General William Barr of directing investigations into 10 cannabis firm mergers because of the top prosecutor’s alleged personal animus for the industry.
That said, a top department official said in a letter to Congress that those actions are better understood as helping to ensure consumers have affordable access to products in a competitive cannabis market—a curious position for the federal government to take.
In a separate recent legal proceeding, a federal appeals court last month denied a request from DEA to dismiss a lawsuit challenging marijuana’s current classification under federal law.
Read the federal court’s response to the DEA and California cannabis case below: