By Bob Egelko
Monday, October 19, 2015 – Updated 10:00 p.m.

Congressional action prohibits federal drug enforcers from shutting medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state law, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled Monday in a potentially precedent-setting case.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer is the first known ruling by a federal judge to protect pot dispensaries under a budget amendment approved by Congress in December 2014 and in effect through this December, when backers plan to renew it for another year. It bars the Justice Department from spending any money to prevent California and other states from “implementing their own state laws” that authorize the medical use of marijuana.

The ruling allows Lynnette Shaw to reopen the state’s first licensed marijuana dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which operated in Fairfax from 1998 until it was closed by a federal injunction — sought by the Justice Department, and approved by Breyer — in 2011. If upheld on appeal, it would also halt federal action against other locally licensed marijuana suppliers, including Oakland’s huge Harborside Health Center and the Berkeley Patients Group.

Breyer did not say whether his reasoning would also apply to criminal prosecutions. But he emphatically rejected the Obama administration’s argument that the congressional action allows federal agents to act against individual marijuana suppliers as long as the Justice Department doesn’t directly challenge state laws.

“It defies language and logic for the government to argue that it does not prevent California from implementing its medical marijuana laws by shutting down these … heavily regulated medical marijuana dispensaries,” Breyer said.

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