Tag Archives: drug law

Marijuana Patients Facing Eviction: Responding to an Eviction Action

A recent article on Canna Law Blog touched on aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship that have been taking center stage in the marijuana policy debate in states where recreational marijuana or medical marijuana has been legalized. The article correctly provided a detailed overview of eviction actions as they apply to marijuana dispensaries and importantly focused on the specific laws and regulations that govern commercial tenancies. As marijuana dispensaries pop up throughout the United States, a multitude of legal issues will arise with them. For example, are all marijuana contracts illegal as contrary to public policy? In other words, given that marijuana is not yet legal at the federal level, are people who contract with marijuana dispensaries forming an illegal, unenforceable contract? These questions will be addressed in articles to come.

For now, I will focus on one specific contract: the tenancy lease. Many articles have correctly analyzed issues arising out of commercial tenancies (such as dispensaries). While some articles have accurately indicated that commercial evictions are often based on allegations of “illegal activity,” many have improperly classified the issues as applicable to all landlord and tenant relationships. I intend to set the record straight.

This article is part two of a mini-series that examines the substantive aspects of eviction actions filed against tenants who use marijuana. It will provide tenants with a detailed description of the arguments a landlord may make in an eviction action for marijuana use.

Part one gave tenants some background on their right to a jury trial and encouraged tenants to use this right to leverage negotiations in their favor. Over the past two years of both attending court to assist in client representation and observing the unlawful detainer calendar on a weekly basis, I have seen only ONE defendant request a jury trial. The judge in that case firmly declared that he would never deny a defendant’s right to a trial by jury. I was motivated to write the last article because the judge’s statements caused a change in the landlord attorney’s attempt to reach an agreement and negotiate the case. The landlord attorney walked back and forth between the defendant and his client in an attempt to get them to reach an agreement so as to avoid the lengthy (and might I add, expensive) trial.

The goal of this article is to provide tenants with additional leverage in settlement negotiations. As described in the pervious article, there are many benefits to settlement such as: reduced expenses, reduced stress, privacy, predictability, saved time, and (perhaps most importantly) flexibility with regards to the outcome. While a judgment may be legally correct, the outcome may not always be fair to both tenants as one will ultimately end up with nothing (other than a hefty attorney bill). Settlements allow for both sides to potentially reach terms that are mutually beneficial. Ultimately, this article will provide tenants with information that, if used in negotiations, will result in fair outcomes.

First, I will examine the specific laws that allow a landlord to begin an eviction action. Second, I will explain what the laws mean for a tenant and how a landlord may use the law against a marijuana user. And third, I will lay out the potential arguments to be raised by the tenant.

Disclaimer: This post is intended to provide general information about your rights as a tenant. It should not be understood to provide legal advice. Should you receive any court documents, please contact an attorney regarding your particular issue.

The Law: Evictions in General

As discussed in my previous articles, an unlawful detainer action (eviction action) is the process by which a landlord may legally evict a tenant. Evictions arise for many reasons. Perhaps the most common are non-payment of rent and breach of the lease agreement.

Under California law, and for the purposes of this article, a landlord is a person who owns a residential rental unit. The landlord rents the unit to a tenant for that tenant to live in. The only person or entity that has standing to evict a tenant is the owner of the property. As discussed earlier, the landlord may evict tenants for their actions as well as their guests’ actions. In most instances, a tenant’s guests are, in the eyes of the law, an extension of the tenant named on the lease agreement. Unlike standing, where only the landlord may begin the eviction action, if a tenant’s guest is smoking marijuana on the premises, the law views this as if the tenant himself is the one smoking marijuana.

What Gives Rise to an Unlawful Detainer Action?

Eviction actions in California are governed by the California Code of Civil Procedure Section 1161(3). This section provides that a tenant who has failed to perform a condition or covenant of the lease agreement is guilty of unlawful detainer if the tenant has been served with a “3-Day Notice.” In other words, a landlord who suspects that a tenant is using marijuana in his unit may begin the eviction process by serving a “3-Day Notice.”

The Notice must:

  1. Be in writing;
  2. Say the full name of the tenant or tenants;
  3. Have the address of the rental property;
  4. Say what the tenant did to violate the lease or rental agreement; and
  5. Say the tenant has the chance to fix the problem or move out in 3 days.

Tenants who have been served with a “three day notice” should make sure that it complies with the statutory requirements. Failure to comply with any of these requirements will render the entire case moot and force the landlord to reissue the notice until it complies with all the requirements. Courts have given the requirements of Section 1161(3) strict interpretations. This means that the landlord must meet all the requirements and that if he fails to meet these requirements (even slightly) courts must rule in favor of the tenant. For example, where a landlord fails to include the total amount of rent due in a “3-Day Notice,” courts will generally require the notice to be corrected and served again.

If the landlord files an eviction action based on a faulty notice, they will have wasted approximately three weeks in court proceedings only to show up to court and be told that they will need to serve the tenant with an adequate notice. This means more time for the tenant to remain on the premises and to try to negotiate with the landlord.

Given the fact that most (if not all) lease agreements include a “no smoking provision,” using medical or recreational marijuana in a rental unit is likely to constitute a violation of a tenant’s lease agreement. Therefore, if a lease agreement prohibits smoking, Section 1161(3) allows a landlord to serve the much-dreaded “3-Day Notice” and begin the eviction process. However, at this point, the tenant is not yet “guilty” of unlawful detainer.

Failure to Perform a Covenant or Condition of the Lease Agreement

Tenants should review their lease agreement to verify that the lease agreement does in fact include such a provision. If a lease agreement fails to prohibit smoking, this specific argument may not be used against the tenant. The reason for this is that a tenant cannot be in breach of a lease provision that does not exist in their lease agreement.

It’s important for tenants to be aware that a landlord has, at his disposal, many other arguments that he may raise in a marijuana eviction case. For example, violations of implied or express covenants, such as creating a nuisance, possession of an illegal substance, or using the unit to carry out illegal activity, are all grounds for a landlord to initiate the eviction process. Unlike the “no-smoking” provision, these violations exist regardless of whether they were expressly included in the given lease agreement. Landlords have an unconditional [statutory] right to raise these arguments. Likewise, tenants have a duty to comply with them.

When is a Tenant “Guilty” of Unlawful Detainer?

Within the context of the “no-smoking” provision, using marijuana in an apartment is a breach of the lease agreement. This breach allows the eviction process to begin; however, it does not necessarily mean that a tenant is guilty of unlawful detainer. Despite the law’s language favoring landlords, a landlord that decides to pursue an eviction action still bears the burden of proving that the tenant has committed an unlawful detainer. Ashlers v. Barrett, 4 Cal.App158, 160 (1906).

How does a landlord prove that a tenant is “guilty” of unlawful detainer?

In order to prove that a tenant is “guilty” of unlawful detainer the landlord must show: 1.) that the marijuana usage at issue in the case constitutes a material breach and 2.) that the tenant has failed to vacate the unit within the notice period. Given the fact that the second element is very easy to prove, this article will focus on the first element.

First, the landlord must have proof that a tenant in fact breached the lease agreement by committing a specific act that the lease agreement prohibits. Where marijuana is involved, it may be based on testimony from someone who observed the tenant using marijuana. Unless a landlord or neighbor can testify under oath that he saw the tenant using marijuana, the landlord will likely run into problems trying to prove that the tenant actually used marijuana on the premises.

Many landlords don’t live on the same premises as their tenants; therefore, complaints about marijuana are likely to come from other tenants who claim that they can smell pot. This argument is weak, primarily because it is difficult to show that the smell is actually coming from one particular unit (assuming the tenant hasn’t taken it upon himself to “hot box” the apartment unit). In an eviction action that does not involve an eyewitness, the tenant will likely be required to testify under oath. Tenants should be aware of the consequences of lying under oath. If a tenant has indeed used marijuana on the premises, it’s in their best interest to try to negotiate a settlement. However, a tenant who has used marijuana on the premises can use this lack of evidence to negotiate additional time to move out or possibly enter into a probationary tenancy.

Second, the landlord must prove that the marijuana usage in that particular instance constitutes a “material breach.” Courts have declared that breaches that are only technical or trivial (as opposed to “material”) will not support forfeiture in an unlawful detainer action in an unlawful detainer action. See McNeece v. Wood, 204 Cal 280, 285 (1928). Hence, even if a tenant has been seen smoking marijuana in their rental unit, the tenant is not necessarily guilty of unlawful detainer unless the particular instance is so severe that it constitutes a “material breach.” For example, smoking marijuana in a rental unit every day is very likely to constitute a material breach. However, a single time that involved a guest is not likely to constitute a material breach because most courts recognize that one instance is not significant enough to result in an eviction.

While not covered extensively in this article, tenants should keep in mind that they have additional defenses such as substantial compliance with a covenant. Knight v. Black, Cal. App. 3d. (1985) Additionally, courts have not drawn a clear line between a trivial breach and a material breach. Thus, even where a given breach is deemed “material” the tenant may still argue that enforcement would be unconscionable and inequitable.

My next article will specifically look at marijuana evictions as they arise in public housing. As discussed in a previous article, while landlords are required to follow the eviction process requirements for all tenancies, public housing tenants stand to lose much more. I will also analyze the potential effects of a recently proposed HUD regulation.

Remember, this is an article, not an attorney. If the above matters apply to you please seek legal advice from you local Legal Aid or pro-bono attorney.

Cannabis IP Remedies: Erie-ly Familiar, Patently Different

If you’re familiar with my writing, you probably expect (or dread) an anecdotal segue to basic policy concerns of intellectual property law. Perhaps fortunately, I don’t have an anecdote for patent infringement. Apparently it’s not the sort of thing that pops up for most people. Put simply, a patent can be described as a contract with the government where the inventor exchanges information for certain temporary, but exclusive, rights. Infringement is when someone uses those rights without your permission. Now, assume you have a patent on a cannabis-related invention. If someone else begins to exercise your exclusive rights (“practice” your patent), what are your options?

First of all, you’d expect the court would make the infringer stop practicing your invention. Second, and probably more important, you would seek out some recompense for the ways in which their infringement has cost you. The reimbursement you seek can be in the form of compensation for lost sales profits, price erosion from the added market supply, increased expenses you experienced, or the profits that an infringer made as a result of taking advantage of your invention. Although the award cannot be more than what the presumed infringer would have paid in a “reasonable royalty” to legally practice your patent, there is the possible availability of treble damages. But what if the defense is that those profits were neither possible, nor could be related to the patent infringement because the practice of that patent was federally illegal?

This is going to get complicated. How the individual branches of government interact, much less federal and state laws, and where any of that authority begins or ends is something even our top officials often disagree on. I’m assuming that in order to practice this hypothetical patent, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) would be violated either through the production or possession of cannabis. Furthermore, I am assuming that in the given state, that very same production or possession is legal under state law.

Now, every law student has drilled into them the rule that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. In short, if the power to adjudicate a dispute is not explicitly granted to federal courts, those courts have no power to rule over the case. A flipside to this is that certain issues are exclusively under the jurisdiction of federal courts. Because of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution, patents are issued by the federal government and the jurisdiction to decide patent cases is held solely by federal courts. However, state courts can have jurisdiction over non-patent claims, such as a licensing contract, that raise patent “issues” and decide those issues.

For the next bit we need to be clear on common law. Common law emerges when the application of a law is unclear and a court must interpret how it would or should apply. Judges must suspend personal beliefs and follow statutes as the legislation intended, even if those judges disagree with the legislative policies or goals. In fact, if a judge has the rare opportunity to clarify a legal rule, she is on extremely dangerous ground because she is likely an unelected public official who now needs to write a bit into the rule herself. Of course, we can always pass legislation to correct for any egregious interpretations. Common law can become confusing because terms of art in one state may have different meanings in a sister state, perhaps most familiar is the availability of common law marriage in some – but not all – states.

In Erie Railroad co. v. Tompkins Justice Brandeis wrote the Supreme Court holding that clarified the role of common law in our split federal and state systems. Basically, it would be pretty strange for federal courts to develop their own guideline definitions of terms of art and then apply them to states whose courts could have conflicting definitions. Arguably, litigants could then “shop” between federal and state systems for more favorable common law. Also, a federal court explaining to a state how that state’s own laws are applied is not reasonable. Essentially, after the decision in Erie, when a federal court applies state law it follows the common law of that state.

There remains federal common law in a few specific areas, such as when the rights or duties of the United States are in question. Federal common law can also be found where a statute explicitly calls for it, or even implies it – such as when a court has exclusive jurisdiction and there is a need for common law in that field. (Exclusively federal legislation exists in the areas of maritime law, bankruptcy law, and, of course, patent law, among others).

A state court deciding cannabis patent “issues” faces a small dilemma if the practice of that patent is legal under state law but not under federal law. The court could apply state law to the practice of the patent, federal law to the infringement, and avoid any conflict. Alternatively, a state court could look to the CSA. A state court applying federal law has been described as reverse- and scholars argue that supremacy usually dictates that federal law applies.

The language of the CSA can be read to address this situation, clarifying in section 708 that there is no “intent on the part of the Congress to occupy the field . . . including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of any State law . . . which would otherwise be within the authority of the State, unless there is a positive conflict between that provision of this subchapter and that State law so that the two cannot consistently stand together.” (emphasis added). “Occupying the field” is when a federal law either explicitly or presumptively (by being exhaustive) leaves no room on the legal “field” for state law. Since the CSA explicitly does not occupy the field, a state court would have to resolve whether or not state cannabis laws is able to consistently stand with the CSA.

The Supreme Court has held that “[d]isplacement [of state law] will occur only where . . . a ‘significant conflict’ exists between an identifiable ‘federal policy or interest and the operation of state law,’ [Wallis], or the application of state law would “frustrate specific objectives” of federal legislation, [Kimbell Foods].” (citations shortened). In rare cases, such as where federal law (in this case, the CSA) conflicts with various state approaches to cannabis but the goals of the federal law (as outlined by the Cole memo) do not conflict with state goals, a court might be able to choose. A state court could hold that so long as the legislative goals and policies of the state’s cannabis statutes align with the Cole memo there is no conflict at all.

A state court looking to federal law that their own legislation has specifically chosen not to enforce would be working against the public policy of their own state. One reason a state court might take that course is to avoid validating a state law that is invalid under the federal scheme (we have seen the legal inverse of this strategy). I think a state court both would not and should not tackle such an issue from the perspective of federal interests when explicitly stated federal policy and goals do not conflict with that state’s interests and goals. Ultimately, the judicial branch can take the executive branch at its word and, failing to see a conflict, resolve any patent issues.

On the other hand, a federal court can simply look to the CSA, note the illegality of practicing the patent, and end the suit there.   A federal court might also try a few other approaches. Can—and, more importantly, should–a federal court grant validity to a patent claim and give full enforcement of that patent when doing so would at least tangentially condone a violation of a separate federal law?

As I theorized about trademarks, a weighing of policy interests of the federal government and state governments can bring resolution to apparently contradictory stances with regard to the legality of a Schedule I substance. However, this is difficult to apply to a case where the federal courts not only have exclusive jurisdiction but where they must apply federal law because federal patent law is the only patent law in the United States. For a federal court to apply state law with regard to CSA issues raised by parties would arguably be an arbitrary refusal to apply federal law and, unlike a state court, allow a precedent that could give inconsistent judgments in states with differing cannabis laws.

I think the best resolution to this is the Federal Circuit developing a little nuance to the Erie doctrine. When a federal statute facially conflicts with state law, the court should look at the underlying goals and policies of the conflicting legislation. If there is no conflict in the goals and policies then a federal court should give deference to the state law. It makes a lot of sense to regulate activity within a state the way that state does. To quote Justice Brandeis’ dissent in another Supreme Court case: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” While Nebraska and Oklahoma disagree with that last point, it has yet to be resolved.

With this approach, a court could have conflicting results in cases, but in those cases the court could point to conflicting state laws. There is no need to resolve what one state allows and another does not – that is a state’s prerogative. This is simple and arguably adheres to Erie, but it appears to ignore supremacy. But just as the Cole memo was a shift from the “original” Cole memo, which in turn was a clarification on the Ogden memo, goals and policies change. Everything changes. Any analysis by a court that relies on current goals and policies set forth by the government would be overturned by an explicit change in those goals and policies. This functions exactly as a legislative response to a “wrong” interpretation, mentioned above, and is exactly how a government built on checks and balances is supposed to function.

Finally, there is one other approach a state or federal court might employ to this conflict: ignore it. Common law systems function by precedent. In other legal systems, precedent does not have the same level of authority to influence or dictate the same interpretation to other courts. Our courts are cautious because of the danger of a precedent having unknown, perhaps negative, effects. It may not always seem like it, but the legislative process is exhaustive, with analysis, discussion, and debate by elected officials trying to do what is best for the general populace and their constituents – not a decision by a single person in response to a very specific dispute. Because of this difference, Courts have developed a long tradition of answering questions in the narrowest possible way to avoid the creation of common law that is not necessary to answer the specific question that court is faced with, so it is entirely believable that the Federal Circuit will rule on an infringement of a patent without addressing the legality of the practice of that patent.

If you remember the litigation over Proposition 8 in California, you may recall the Supreme Court holding on “standing” and nothing else. Essentially, if California itself did not want to defend the constitutionality of its laws then some other party cannot step in and defend the laws for that state’s government. This was a convenient way to avoid holding on the extremely divisive debate over gay marriage, but also an interesting precedent in its own right. No party other than a prosecutor has the standing to charge someone with a violation of federal law. The enforcement of federal laws, just as the defense of the constitutionality of those laws, is the role of the executive branch. Any argument that infringement damages are unobtainable because the practice of a patent violates the CSA is an argument that a federal prosecutor should raise, not a defendant in a patent suit.

The beauty of this approach is that it affords courts with an avenue to avoid answering the (unraised) question of the conflict between state cannabis law and the CSA, and thus avoid setting any precedent in that area. Additionally, as Lord Mansfield famously wrote, certain defenses sound “at all times very ill in the mouth of the defendant.” While a defendant can sometimes use illegality of behavior as a defense, it is not that the defendant is being protected, but that the plaintiff has no legitimate, or legal, cause of action in the first place. As Mansfield eloquently continues: “No court will lend its aid to a man who founds his cause of action upon an immoral or an illegal act.” Courts of all stripes may very well consider a CSA violation defense in a patent case a flimsy attempt at getting away with blatantly profiting from another’s intellectual property and happily address the sole issue of theft.

Gambling with Tribal Marijuana

For this post I will look at the application of state criminal jurisdiction to non-tribal members while on tribal lands; first at the jurisdictional framework in general, and then at a brief history of federal Indian gaming regulations to better understand the legal limitations of tribal marijuana cultivation. In my last post I discussed Federal Public Law 280 (PL-280) and the delegation of criminal jurisdiction over tribes and their members to state agencies and courts. State criminal jurisdiction does not apply to tribal lands where the alleged crime is regulated—and not strictly prohibited—by states. This raises the question: Does state criminal jurisdiction under PL-280 extend to the activities of non-members of the tribe while on tribal lands? For example, if a tribe opens a “cannabar” for non-tribe members to purchase and imbibe marijuana while on tribal lands, would the actions of those non-members be within the criminal jurisdiction of California, the U.S., or the tribe? The answer to this question depends on whom we ask. The current U.S. Supreme Court case law and lower court statutory interpretations find that federal criminal jurisdiction (or state criminal jurisdiction in PL-280 states) over non-members extends to their activities on tribal lands. Which, continuing from the earlier example, non-members would be subject to federal or state criminal jurisdiction for acts committed on tribal land, and could be prosecuted for violating the state or federal law by purchasing marijuana for recreational use at a cannabar located on tribal lands. But a group of constitutional theorists argues that these activities are beyond the reach of state, and perhaps even federal, criminal jurisdiction in PL-280 states. What does this jurisdictional quagmire mean for tribes seeking to sell marijuana to non-tribal members for use on tribal lands? Is “casino”-style marijuana consumption and sale possible?

Does PL-280 extend state criminal jurisdiction to activities of non-members while on tribal lands? In Oliphant the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribal criminal jurisdiction does not apply to non-members, noting that “[n]on-Indians are not subject to the jurisdiction of Indian courts and cannot be tried in Indian courts on trespass charges. Further, there are no Federal laws which can be invoked against trespassers.”  Mark Oliphant was a non-tribe member residing on the Suquamish reservation in Port Madison, Washington. During the tribe’s annual Chief Seattle Days celebration, Oliphant was arrested by tribal police and charged with assaulting a tribal officer and resisting arrest. He was arraigned before a tribal court, and after bailing out; he filed for a writ of habeas corpus in Ninth Circuit relying on the claim that the Suquamish court did not have criminal jurisdiction over non-members. The Ninth Circuit found in favor of the Suquamish, and Oliphant appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court found that tribal sovereignty is not strictly geographical, and thus the tribal court’s criminal jurisdiction does not automatically extend over non-members while they are present on tribal lands. Rather, non-members are subject to the federal (or in PL-280 states, the state) statute that would apply if the crime had been committed outside of tribal boundaries. The Court did not question the tribe’s power to arrest, and in fact found that the tribal agencies must turn over and “not to shelter or conceal offenders against the laws of the United States, but to deliver them up to the authorities for trial.” It also noted that the basis for this policy was to provide protection for tribal members “from the violences [sic] of the lawless part of our frontier inhabitants,” or to put it another way, to protect the American Indians from non-members entering tribal territory and committing what would be considered crimes by the federal government had it occurred on non-tribal soil. Oliphant further elucidated that tribes have sovereignty over their members, and the right to assert jurisdiction where no Congressional jurisdiction has been asserted (or asserted and then delegated to states via PL-280).

Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the preeminent source for understanding the intricacies of U.S. tribal law, also lends clarity to the convoluted point of tribal jurisdiction over non-members while on tribal lands. Citing Oliphant as authoritative precedent, Cohen’s Handbook notes that even a regulatory PL-280 state law, which would normally not be enforceable in Indian territories, may be enforceable on tribal lands where it “affects non-Indians and survives the Court’s infringement/preemption test.” The test, as explained by the Court in Mescalero Apache Tribe is that “if [the state regulation] interferes or is incompatible with federal and tribal interests reflected in federal law [it is preempted], unless the state interests at stake are sufficient to justify the assertion of state authority.”

There are some critics that question whether the federal government acts within the scope of its constitutional powers by delegating inherently federal jurisdiction to states; an issue which has never been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in regards to the application of state law to tribal lands.

The lower courts that have addressed this issue have set aside the issue with minimal or circular analysis. In Anderson, James Anderson, a member of the Klamath tribe residing on the Klamath reservation, appealed his conviction of second-degree murder in Oregon state court to the Ninth Circuit. He appealed to the Court on the basis that Oregon state courts did possess criminal jurisdiction in this case as the homicide had occurred on Klamath land, and the defendant is a member of that tribe. The Ninth Circuit did not agree, and found that, “[t]he [Congressional] power over Indians was deemed not so inherently or exclusively federal as to apply beyond the extent to which the federal government has preempted the field, and the federal government could thus withdraw from the field and turn the subject matter back to the states when it chose to do so.” However, the presumption that the states possessed original jurisdiction over tribes, and that the federal government had preempted the state powers on those lands, is unsupported by statute, treaty, or constitutional amendment. Tribes, recognized in the U.S. Constitution as falling under the same umbrella of federalist powers as states and foreign countries, never entered into treaties with state governments to cede jurisdiction, but rather made treaties with the federal government to cede their jurisdiction in a limited manner. As Cohen’s Handbook notes, “[U.S.-Indian t]reaties must be understood as grants of rights from Indian people who reserve all rights not granted.”

The false presumption first promulgated in Anderson was relied on in other cases reviewing the PL-280 for its constitutionality. In Agua Caliente the District Court noted that, “Public Law 280, like other similar laws in recent years, is a withdrawal by Congress from its preemption in this field. It has done so in this case by express grant to the state of authority…to the extent that any further withdrawal by the Federal Government occurs, the sovereignty of the state becomes enlarged to that extent.” Again, there is no existing evidence or support of this presumption, except that this is the relationship between federal powers and state jurisdiction outside of tribal lands. The express purpose of federalism is for federal jurisdiction to extend to “certain enumerated objects only, and leaves to the several States a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.” But this only exists where original state jurisdiction would otherwise exist. Keeping in mind that this issue has never been argued before the Supreme Court, it is possible that the Court would find in favor of the federalist principles, and rule that where the federal government has withdrawn from a jurisdiction, the sovereignty of tribes would become enlarged to that extent.

How does this relate to marijuana sales on tribal lands? Which criminal jurisdiction applies on tribal lands matters to non-members seeking to imbibe or purchase marijuana from tribe-operated dispensaries? Under the majority view, it appears that non-members cannot commit acts on tribal lands that are considered crimes in state or federal court. This is due in part to existing statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and seems to be the most largely accepted interpretation of the law. However, a splinter group of theorists among the minority view argues that the federal government cannot delegate its criminal jurisdiction to states. Under one interpretation of the principles of federalism this could mean that where the federal government has withdrawn from the field of criminal jurisdiction (i.e. via attempting to delegate this power to states) that jurisdiction is restored to the tribes. The tribes would have the criminal jurisdiction that would otherwise be granted to the states under PL-280, and could determine whether non-members could purchase or imbibe marijuana on their land. Of course, this is not a view supported by the existing case law, but since the Supreme Court has not addressed the question, it remains an argument to be made.

When first hearing of the interaction between PL-280 and the CSA for tribes, it may seem natural to conclude that the state criminal jurisdictional exception extends to non-members in such a way that “casino”-style marijuana sales (i.e. tribal dispensaries providing marijuana for on-site consumption by non-members) seem inevitable. To better understand why this not the case, an examination of the history of American Indian gaming is necessary. From the outside, it may seem a rather straightforward matter; tribal sovereignty in conjunction with PL-280 allows for casino and gaming in states that do not completely prohibit gaming (i.e. operating a state lottery). However, the power to organize casinos and gaming on reservations is still within the jurisdiction of the federal government. This is because the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA) re-asserted federal jurisdiction to regulate the conduct of gaming on Indian Lands, established the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC), as well as a regulatory structure for Indian gaming in the United States, essentially closing the jurisdictional loophole left open under PL-280 by the Cabazon decision.

Based on Cabazon, which held that in PL-280 states where gaming is a regulated activity and not a prohibited activity (e.g., states with a state-operated lottery), tribal gaming was determined not to fall within the state’s jurisdiction to regulate. The Court further elucidated that only Congress “could effectively place limits on the Indian Gaming industry.” For precedential support, the Court relied on the Mescalero Apache Tribe preemption test mentioned earlier in this post. Within a year of the Cabazon decision, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). The stated purpose of the IGRA includes the establishment of Federal Regulatory powers over Indian gaming and a Federal commission to oversee and apply such powers (NIGC). Cohen’s Handbook notes that although the IGRA does not mention PL-280, it operates to supersede state jurisdiction because it is a more recent statute asserting exclusive federal control over violations of Indian gaming. Under the IGRA, tribes are required to enter into compacts with the states in order to participate in Class III gaming, which includes all gaming not covered in Class I and II, specifically anything not closely resembling bingo or “social games solely for prizes of minimal value or traditional forms of Indian gaming engaged in by individuals as a part of, or in connection with, tribal ceremonies.” Tribes retain jurisdiction over Class I and Class II gaming; subject to any “prohibitive” limitations placed by states (very similar to the tribal jurisdiction limitations mandated by PL-280).

In those states where tribes have sought Class III compacting agreements, the state has not granted criminal jurisdiction as a result of the IGRA legislation, rather states have a per se veto power over Indian proposed regulation of such activities, as iterated in
§ 2710(d)(3) of the IGRA:

“Any Indian tribe having jurisdiction over the Indian lands upon which a class III gaming activity is being conducted, or is to be conducted, shall request the State in which such lands are located to enter into negotiations for the purpose of entering into a Tribal-State compact governing the conduct of gaming activities.”

The IGRA included a provision for tribes to file suit in U.S. District Court against states failing to enter into negotiations or that negotiate in bad faith these compacts with tribes. However, in Seminole Tribe the Supreme Court ruled that this provision was not within the constitutional power of the federal government, and that states were immune to suit by tribes under the Eleventh Amendment. Despite the fact that the language of the IGRA seems to be a broad grant of jurisdiction to the District Courts over suits brought by Indian tribes against States that had not consented, the language was held as “insufficient to constitute a clear statement of an intent to abrogate state sovereign immunity.”  Thus, tribal sovereignty was limited by the passage of the IGRA, but state sovereignty (under the Eleventh Amendment) was not.

This is important because there has been some recent discussion of state legislation in Washington essentially re-asserting state jurisdiction over marijuana cultivation or sale on tribal lands. However, any resulting legislation would be open to legal challenge. This is because while the federal government can re-assert federal jurisdiction via federal statute in states where PL-280 applies, such as it did with the IGRA, the principles of federalism do not allow for states to assert their criminal jurisdiction without direct delegation by the federal government. Those states either have criminal jurisdiction over drugs (where that drug has been strictly prohibited) or they don’t (where there is existing regulatory state legislation). In PL-280 optional states, or states that were offered the opportunity to claim state criminal jurisdiction under PL-280, but were not mandated to accept that jurisdiction, such as Washington, Arizona, and Montana, further analysis is necessary to determine whether PL-280 is applicable. Several of these optional states have state constitutional disclaimers that prevent PL-280 from applying (according to the McClanahan decision), and cannot claim criminal jurisdiction until these constitutional disclaimers were nullified. Cohen’s Handbook notes, “[i]f a state has not assumed jurisdiction under Public Law 280, it may not acquire jurisdiction over Indians independent of that Act.”  This is especially true in Washington, which is blocked from fully asserting criminal jurisdiction over tribes by its own constitutional disclaimer, and so would lack PL-280 jurisdiction on two counts; first it would lack jurisdiction under PL-280 because it has not fully assumed that jurisdiction, and secondly, because if PL-280 were to fully apply, the state regulates but does not prohibit marijuana sales and cultivation, and so would not have jurisdiction over the tribes that chose to engage in those activities.

As recently as March of this year, tribes were granted the ability to prosecute non-Indians for certain crimes under Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction, including criminal violations of protective orders. While this federal action may partly overturn Oliphant, it is not clear whether this opens the door for greater tribal jurisdiction over crimes committed on reservations. If it did and tribes were able to determine for themselves what recreational drug use was allowed on their lands by non-members, the risk of investing in the marijuana industry would be largely alleviated.

Why Tribes Don’t Need Your Permission

Late last year the U.S. Department of Justice made an announcement that American Indian tribes may grow and sell marijuana on tribal land so long as they adhere to the federal conditions required of states that have legalized marijuana, and with the consultation of the local U.S. Attorney’s office. As a result of the announcement many tribes, including the Pomo and the Red Lake Band, are seeking to implement a regulatory framework that would adhere to those federal conditions. Others have voiced concern that the vague wording of the DOJ memo will leave tribes vulnerable to prosecution on the federal, state or county level. But what if California tribes did not need the permission of the federal government to cultivate marijuana without the threat of criminal prosecution?

The United States Supreme Court has recognized an exemption for tribal lands from the application of state law. For example, in Washington v. Confederated Tribes of Colville Indian Reservation the Court held that “tribal sovereignty is dependent on, and subordinate to, only the Federal Government, not the States.” However, where Congress has delegated this power to states, state law would be enforceable on tribal land.

Under Public Law 280, the federal government delegated criminal law enforcement to California and a handful of other states, making the state penal code enforceable on tribal land. This rule is subject to one caveat: if the state generally permits the conduct at issue, subject to regulation, it must be classified as a civil or regulatory charge, rather than criminal, and thus PL-280 would not authorize its enforcement on an Indian reservation. Furthermore, the definition of generally permitted conduct is extensive. The Supreme Court held in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians that “even to the extent that the State and county seek to regulate short of prohibition, the laws are preempted” from application on tribal land. One possible conclusion is that by regulating marijuana, even for medical purposes, California has preempted state or county marijuana laws from applying to tribes.

Tribal law still applies, of course. And some tribes have strict anti-drug policies, which may be enforced by tribal police on those lands. However, those tribes that are within the borders of a state with PL-280 in effect would be able to independently determine how to regulate marijuana without the need to invoke the protection of the recent memo. What this means is that for tribes seeking to benefit from the restrictive nature of the marijuana market the fear of criminal prosecution can be at least somewhat alleviated (however, this blog post does not constitute legal advice; anyone seeking to take action must consult with a licensed attorney).

In my next post I will be considering whether PL-280 would also allow for “casino-style” recreational marijuana use, or the use by non-tribal members while on tribal lands, and if so, whether what the ramifications of such use would be.

Are High Drivers High Risk?


The danger of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) has been solidified for some time. The development of DUI laws and enforcement has been grounded in scientific research about crash risks and the effects of alcohol are easy to measure. However, driving under the influence of marijuana (DUIM1) presents an entirely different issue. It may not be wise to assume that similar laws, tests, and enforcement methods should apply. If there is anything to take away from the body of DUI policy, it is that it was developed to decrease accidents rather than indirectly prohibit alcohol. If marijuana is to be legalized, there is likely to be an increased level of enforcement to prevent the dangers of DUIM. However, such enforcement is only necessary if these dangers actually do exist.

DUIM is a criminal offense in California and will continue to be even if marijuana is legalized.2 A California roadside survey conducted in 2012 found that 7.4% of drivers tested positive for some amount of THC, a psychoactive component found in marijuana. To put that into perspective, 7.3% of drivers tested positive for alcohol. Although the occurrence of intoxicated drivers may be almost identical for alcohol and marijuana, the similarities quickly diverge when it comes to the crash risk these drivers present. DUIM after legalization is only an issue if high drivers actually present a danger to themselves and society.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released the results of a study that was “the largest and most comprehensive study to address alcohol and drug crash risk in the United States.” This study was conducted in 2012 over a 20-month period in Virginia and tested thousands of drivers using blood, urine, and saliva for the presence of THC. The NHTSA took care to match characteristics of control drivers with those of crash-involved drivers as closely as possible. These characteristics included age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol use. When the variables of age, gender, ethnicity, and alcohol use were not accounted for, the results showed an increase in crash risk for those who tested positive for THC. However, when the analysis accounted for these variables, the correlation vanished – the NHTSA study did not find an increased crash risk associated with THC use. In contrast, drivers at a .08% blood alcohol level (the legal limit in every state) had about four times the chance of crashing.

The NHTSA study is the first large-scale study of its kind conducted in the United States, and so it stands to be the best indicator of an actual, observable crash risk for DUIM in California. The study found no increased risk, and it calls into question whether increased enforcement is actually necessary. This leads one to wonder how these results are even possible. Marijuana is a psychoactive drug, and an analysis of numerous studies (Sewell) “concluded that marijuana causes impairment in every performance area that can reasonably be connected with safe driving of a vehicle, such as tracking, motor coordination, visual functions, and particularly complex tasks that require divided attention[.]” Despite these effects, the Sewell analysis found that most marijuana intoxicated drivers show only small impairments on actual road tests while more experienced marijuana users showed almost no functional impairment.

The study attributes these results to evidence that marijuana intoxicated drivers are are able to compensate for the effects of their intoxication. For example, they will drive slower, increase their distance from cars, and try to overtake less. On the other hand, alcohol intoxicated drivers will underestimate their impairment, and will even drive more aggressively compared to sober drivers. A year after the Sewell analysis, a study was completed that seems to agree with their findings. In 2010, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 21 heavy cannabis users was conducted, rating each individual’s performance on tasks that tested their ability to track, make quick decisions, multitask, and react to a stop. This study found that marijuana generally did not affect task performance, concluding that “heavy cannabis users develop tolerance to the impairing effects of THC on neurocognitive task performance.”

These studies help explain the surprising results of the NHTSA study, and together, they show that DUIM may not be the public safety hazard that it is often thought to be. However, there are concerns that legalization will change the landscape of marijuana use, causing both an overall increase in DUIM related crashes, along with an increased crash risk by creating new users who are unable to successfully compensate for their intoxication. This concern is not without merit, but it cannot be expressed with certainty either.

The DMV has found that out of fourteen states that have allowed access to medical marijuana, three of them showed an increase in DUIM crash rates from the time of access to 2009. California was one of these states, showing an increase in 2.1 percentage points for fatal crashes where a driver tested positive for marijuana intoxication. This may seem insignificant, but it was a 196% increase. However, this uptick occurred in 2004 when medical marijuana was initially decriminalized, and there was no significant growth for 6 years after. From these results, the DMV suggested that medical marijuana is simply providing more access to a stable population of patients rather than creating new users. If the effect of legalization is to follow the same pattern, it will not create an explosion of new, inexperienced users, but it will increase access for experienced users, the ones who have shown the ability to drive safely in experiments and studies.

More importantly, if the goal of DUIM policy is to reduce crash risk, an increase in the total number of DUIM related crashes does not show that there is an increased risk of crashing. The DMV study explicitly states that determining the crash risk of DUIM was neither the intent nor purpose of the study. Accident totals were not adjusted for the increased use of marijuana in states where medical marijuana was allowed. Greater access to marijuana increases the number of people who are intoxicated, and when those people get into accidents, there is an increase in accidents involving marijuana intoxicated drivers. Confused? Here is an analogy: If there is greater access to yellow shirts, then an increase in accidents involving drivers in yellow shirts is likely to occur (provided that people want to wear yellow shirts). It does not follow that wearing a yellow shirt causes accidents, and similarly, the DMV results establish nothing about the actual risk of crashing.

The NHTSA study, on the other hand, was purposefully designed to discover such risk, and it found that drivers intoxicated on marijuana do not have a heightened risk of accidents compared to sober drivers. If the goal of DUIM policy is to reduce accidents, there must be a heightened risk to reduce. Even if marijuana is legalized, it cannot be assumed that an increased crash risk will come along with it.

It would be a shame to make the trek through all this technical, scientific data for it to merely be an academic exercise. But it unfortunately is. Questioning the necessity of increased enforcement will likely be nothing but a philosophical pursuit. It is almost assured there will be an increased focus on DUIM enforcement whether it is useful or not. In reaction to marijuana legalization, Colorado and Seattle have enacted new DUIM laws, funded training programs for their officers, and instituted new field tests for discovering marijuana intoxicated drivers. While California still awaits legalization, counties such as Los Angeles have already taken similar steps in officer training and field-testing. With legalization comes enforcement, and the state will have to design policy and procedure to prevent DUIM in a fair and just way. Many of us will also have to find a way to forget that our tax dollars are being spent on a problem that may not exist.

1. I choose to use the term DUIM here instead of using the more common term of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). DUID is often the term used for marijuana intoxicated driving under the California Penal Code. This is because the pertinent section of the code does not distinguish between drug types other than alcohol, so all non-alcohol intoxication can be referred to as DUID. For this reason, I choose to use DUIM in order to specify that I am only talking about marijuana intoxication and not the countless other drugs that DUID can refer to.
2. California Penal Code section 23152(e)