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Looming Marijuana Ruling Could Limit Federal Prosecutions

Jeff Chiu / File / AP

This Feb. 1, 2011 file photo shows medical marijuana clone plants at a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif.

Jeff Chiu / File / AP

(AP) — A federal appeals court is expected to issue a ruling soon that could limit prosecutions of medical marijuana users and dispensaries in eight Western states that allow medical marijuana.

At issue is a Congressional amendment that said the U.S. Department of Justice could not use funding Congress allocated to it for 2015 and 2016 to prevent states that have legalized medical marijuana from implementing laws that permit its use, distribution and possession.

The amendment's bipartisan sponsors say it prohibits the DOJ from prosecuting people who are complying with state medical marijuana laws.

But the DOJ has interpreted the law more narrowly and says it permits U.S. attorneys to go after marijuana dispensaries and growers. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The 9th Circuit is expected to clarify the scope of the amendment in appeals by three sets of defendants.