SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The federal government can't shut down the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana - one of California's oldest lawful dispensaries - as long as it complies with state law, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer found that a newly enacted law buried in Congress' 2015 budget appropriations bill prevents the federal government from prosecuting the dispensary.
Section 538 of the bill - the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment - "forbids the Department of Justice from enforcing this injunction against Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana to the extent that it operates in compliance with state California law," Breyer wrote in the ruling.
Breyer said that the Fairfax-based dispensary "was operating a model business in careful compliance with its local use permit in a cooperative and collaborative relationship with the community," according to a series of letters from the town's mayor to a U.S. attorney.
The mayor also said that Marin has "the highest documented rate of breast cancer in the United States," which makes community access to medical marijuana vital, Breyer noted in his ruling.
He said that the government's reading of Section 538 "tortures the plain meaning of the statute."
"The government appears to mean that, in the grand scheme of things, shutting down any given dispensary may be presumed to have such a minimal effect on California's medical marijuana regime that it does not 'prevent' California from 'implementing' its state law," Breyer said.
"But if anything, the government's reliance on the operation of other medical marijuana dispensaries in order to justify enjoining this dispensary is an a fortiori reason why the injunction is inappropriate in its present form."
Moreover, Breyer said, "this drop-in-the-bucket argument is at odds with fundamental notions of the rule of law."
"It has never been a legal principle that an otherwise impermissible government intrusion can be countenanced because any one defendant is a small piece of the legal landscape," he said.
Section 538 "takes as a given that states implement their medical marijuana laws in the ways they see fit," and "California has chosen its way: allowing private dispensaries to operate under strict state and local regulation," Breyer said.
"In sum, this intricate legal framework 'implements' California's medical marijuana laws by allowing license patients to obtain medical marijuana from highly regulated nonprofit cooperative dispensaries," he said.
Greg Anton, who represents the dispensary, said that Breyer's ruling will impact similar cases nationwide.
"Anyone can go to court and cite this case now when the feds are interfering with them and say 'back off,'" he said in a phone interview.
"The war on marijuana is finally winding down, and it looks like marijuana won."
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday morning.
Anton's office is in Lagunitas, California.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.