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United States of America v. Jason Washington

August 22, 2012



I. Introduction

This Opinion and Order resolves the many outstanding pretrial motions filed in this matter by Defendants Jason Washington, Lisa Fleming, and Steven Sann.

The three are charged, along with four other co-defendants, with offenses related to the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. Defendant Washington also faces a gun charge. The charges allege conduct that occurred at least in part in the context of a medical marijuana dispensary established during the effective period of the Montana Medical Marijuana Act ("MMMA"), which was passed by voter initiative in 2004 and superseded by a revised law, known as the Montana Marijuana Act ("MMA"), in 2011. As the Court has previously stated, it will assume, for purposes of deciding the pending motions to dismiss only, that the Defendants' conduct was in full compliance with the Montana Medical Marijuana Act and later the Montana Marijuana Act. Despite that assumption in the Defendants' favor, nearly all of their motions are denied. The Court takes this opportunity, prior to undertaking an analysis of the legal merits of each of the pending motions, to explain in general terms the reasons why it believes the law compels this outcome.

Marijuana is a prohibited Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, et seq., a statutory classification that has been in place since 1970, and persisted throughout the time frame of the events alleged in the Indictment. Nonetheless, beginning in 2009 various officials in the executive branch of the United States government made public statements suggesting that it is the policy of the federal government to refrain from prosecuting participants in a state-authorized medical marijuana program, provided those participants acted in compliance with state law. These statements by federal officials were nebulous, equivocal, and heavily qualified. However, it is clear that no federal official has ever stated that the cultivation, sale, or use of medical marijuana is legal under federal law. Still, when taken in the aggregate, particularly through the filter of the news media, the words of federal officials were enough to convince those who were considering entry into the medical marijuana business that they could engage in that enterprise without fear of federal criminal consequences. They began cultivating and selling medical marijuana under the assumption that they could become legitimate providers under state law and not be selectively arrested and prosecuted under federal law. Regardless of the wisdom of that choice, it is a choice many Montanans have made.

That choice has now proven very costly for those providers, including the Defendants in this case, whose medical marijuana businesses have been raided by federal agents, and who are now facing federal felony marijuana distribution charges, many of which carry mandatory minimum sentences of five years or more in federal prison, notwithstanding the fact that many of these same individuals have non-existent or minimal criminal histories. While a few have been prosecuted by the federal government, thousands of Montanans continue to use medical marijuana pursuant to a state statutory scheme that was originally endorsed by 62 percent of Montana voters. Thus, there is a strongly held belief among those in the medical marijuana community that the federal government has not treated them fairly. This sense of injustice has been well articulated in the Defendants' briefing and oral argument, and the Court understands and acknowledges their position.

Legal arguments are not presented and decided in a vacuum, however. Appeals to the Court's sense of fairness and equity must be tethered to an applicable legal theory, and must seek a remedy that the Court is able to provide. It is against this practical measure that the Defendants' otherwise compelling arguments ultimately come up short. The facts simply do not satisfy the elements of the various theories advanced by the Defendants.

The Court is not empowered or inclined to second-guess the legitimate exercise of the prosecutorial discretion vested with the United States Attorney. And it should be emphasized that the Defendants in this case are not terminally ill cancer or HIV/AIDS patients using physician-prescribed marijuana for palliative relief in full compliance with the MMMA or MMA. As near as the Court can tell, the federal government has been true to its word and not chosen to prosecute Montana citizens who fall in that category.

Nor is this the appropriate venue in which to attempt to revolutionize and change long-standing federal drug policy as it relates to marijuana. It is the role of this Court to decide the legal issues presented in this matter without passion or prejudice. Thus, the decision that follows is what the law requires. Considerations beyond that are left to the political branches, where they may be resolved in accordance with the will of the people.

II. Background

Defendants Jason Washington, Darin Mower, Gregory Zuckert, Steven Sann, Lisa Fleming, Jesse Shewalter, and Christopher Cronshaw are charged in Count I of the Indictment with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 100 marijuana plants in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 846. Count II alleges that Defendants Washington and Cronshaw possessed with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). Similar charges of possession with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants are levied against Defendants Mower and Zuckert in Counts III and IV, respectively. Count V charges Defendant Washington with possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A)(i). The Indictment also includes forfeiture allegations against Defendants Sann, Washington, and Mower.

Each of the marijuana charges carries a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence. The firearm charge against Washington carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment consecutive to any sentence imposed on any drug charge. Defendants Mower, Zuckert, Shewalter and Cronshaw have entered guilty pleas but have not been sentenced. Defendants Mower and Shewalter pled guilty to lesser charges that do not carry mandatory minimum sentences. Defendants Cronshaw and Zuckert pled guilty to the Count I conspiracy in exchange for the government's promise to dismiss Counts II and IV against them, respectively.

The three remaining Defendants have filed dozens of motions, which can be roughly assigned to one of the following categories: motions to suppress, motions to dismiss on estoppel grounds, motions to dismiss on constitutional grounds, motions relating to discovery, motions in limine, and Defendant Sann's motion to sever. The parties presented oral argument and extensive evidence in the form of exhibits and witness testimony in support of their motions during a two-day hearing held on August 6 and 7, 2012. The Court's analysis addresses the motions collectively where possible, and individually where necessary.

III. Analysis

A. Motions to suppress evidence obtained through electronic surveillance by Defendants Fleming (Doc. No. 153) and Washington (Doc. No. 180) The government's investigation of these Defendants included the use of electronic surveillance in the form of a wiretap on Defendant Washington's cellular telephone. A wiretap is an investigative tactic not generally available to federal agents. Permission to rely on electronic surveillance may only be obtained by court order, and requires strict adherence to Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, codified at 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2522. United States v. Kalustian, 529 F.2d 585, 588 (9th Cir. 1976). Among other provisions, the Title III statutes require that an application for a wiretap demonstrate the necessity of such surveillance, that the application be reviewed and approved by a statutorily qualified official within the Department of Justice, and that any recordings be immediately sealed upon expiration of the order authorizing the wiretap. The Defendants argue the government failed to meet all three of these requirements, any one of which, if unsatisfied, is grounds for suppression of all evidence obtained through or derived from electronic surveillance.

1. Necessity

Every wiretap application must contain "a full and complete statement as to whether or not other investigative procedures have been tried and failed or why they reasonably appear to be unlikely to succeed if tried or to be too dangerous." 18 U.S.C. § 2518(1)(c). Similarly, the judge to whom a wiretap application is presented may authorize the interception only upon making a finding that, inter alia, "normal investigative procedures have been tried and have failed or reasonably appear to be unlikely to succeed if tried or to be too dangerous." The test for measuring compliance with the necessity requirement calls for a two-step analysis. United States v. Garcia-Villalba, 585 F.3d 1223, 1228 (9th Cir. 2009). First, the district court must review whether the application contains a "full and complete statement" of the relevant facts related to the investigation. Id. If the court finds the application contained a sufficient statement of facts, it must then review the issuing judge's finding that the wiretap was necessary. Id. Defendant Fleming's argument goes to both steps of the analysis; she contends that the application omitted important facts, and that if all of the facts had been presented to the issuing judge the application would have failed to show necessity. Defendant Washington focuses on the second step, arguing that the application as presented failed to demonstrate necessity.

a. Full and complete statement

An application for electronic surveillance must state the relevant facts by describing the investigative efforts and results with a reasonable degree of "case-specific detail." Garcia-Villalba, 585 F.3d at 1228. Boilerplate recital of the shortcomings inherent in certain common investigative techniques is not enough. United States v. Blackmon, 273 F.3d 1204, 1210 (9th Cir. 2001).

The application in this case contains a full and complete statement of the material facts in reasonable case-specific detail. The supporting affidavit describes the facts known to the investigating agents and discusses the use of search warrants, pen registers and trap and trace data, confidential sources, controlled purchases, physical surveillance, interviews, trash searches, and financial records. The affidavit explains how each of these techniques was used in the investigation of the alleged conspiracy, what evidence was derived from each technique, and the limits of each technique as applied in this case. The affidavit also explained why some investigative tools, such as undercover agents and grand jury investigation, were not attempted prior to seeking permission to engage in electronic surveillance.

Defendant Fleming lists several facts the she contends were wrongfully omitted from the wiretap application. See Doc. No. 153 at 19-20.*fn1 She argues the agents neglected to inform the issuing court that they had access to documents related to the operation of the medical marijuana venture, including state incorporation records, state and federal tax records, state regulatory filings, patient lists, and caregiver forms. She claims agents also failed to inform the issuing court that they could purchase multiple-pound quantities of marijuana from the Defendants either at dispensaries or through Defendant Washington, that they had located the personal and business bank accounts of the Defendants, that they were aware of multiple locations where the Defendants were growing and storing marijuana, and that they could have obtained a great deal of information by executing search warrants on the known dispensaries and growing sites associated with the medical marijuana venture.

The essence of Fleming's argument is that because the Defendants were operating an open and obvious medical marijuana business in violation of federal law, no further investigation of their activities was called for. This misstates the scope of the investigation. The facts presented in the affidavit demonstrate that the agents had legitimate reason to believe that Defendant Washington was regularly purchasing bulk quantities of marijuana from local sources and suppliers outside of Montana to provide inventory for sales on the black market and to other medical marijuana caregivers. Merely apprehending the principals in the medical marijuana venture would not have been helpful in accomplishing the broader objectives of the investigation.

Moreover, contrary to Defendant Fleming's assertion, most of these facts were communicated to the issuing court in the affidavit supporting the wiretap application. The affidavit discusses financial records and other filings with the State of Montana, and very clearly explains that the Defendants were operating a medical marijuana venture and selling out of a storefront in Missoula the location of which was known to the agents. The affidavit also describes controlled purchases of marijuana in quantities exceeding those allowed by state law. Agents obtained at least one search warrant prior to seeking authorization for a wiretap, and the fruits of that warrant are discussed in detail in the affidavit. The affidavit further acknowledges that search warrants are an investigative option, but explains that search warrants would not be useful in achieving the broader goals of the investigation, including identifying Defendant Washington's suspected sources of bulk marijuana.

The only information that was known to the agents and not included in the affidavit were the locations of two of Defendant Washington's alleged marijuana growing sites, one at the "Wye" near Missoula, Montana and a second site near Polson, Montana. These omissions were not material, however, because the investigation was not focused on the Defendants' use of local growing sites to stock their dispensaries. It is clear from the application that the agents were more concerned about Defendant Washington's alleged bulk purchases and bulk sales to other dealers than about the scope of his own grow operation. The execution of search warrants on the growing facilities would not have led to information on imports and bulk purchases and sales.

Having determined that the application contains a full and complete statement of facts, the Court now turns to the question of whether the facts support a finding that the wiretap was necessary.

b. Was the wiretap necessary?

Necessity must be evaluated under a common-sense approach. United States v. Reed, 575 F.3d 900, 909 (9th Cir. 2009). The standard requires the application to set forth facts showing that normal investigative techniques using a normal amount of resources have failed to make the case within a reasonable period of time. United States v. Bennett, 219 F.3d 1117, 1122 (9th Cir. 2000). Necessity should be viewed in light of the government's need not just to collect some evidence, but to develop an effective case, i.e., a case sufficient to secure a conviction. Reed, 575 F.3d at 909; Garcia-Villalba, 585 F.3d at 1228. While a wiretap should not be the initial step in an investigation, agents need not have exhausted every conceivable traditional alternative in order to obtain a wiretap. United States v. Forrester, 616 F.3d 929, 944 (9th Cir. 2010). The government is accorded more leeway when investigating conspiracies, because traditional techniques are often insufficient to identify all conspirators. Reed, 575 F.3d at 910; Garcia-Villalba, 585 F.3d at 1230.

The facts presented in this case demonstrate that the issuing court was well within its discretion to approve the wiretap application. Federal agents did not use the wiretap as the first step in their investigation, but rather attempted for eight months to achieve their objectives using ordinary techniques before submitting the application. Those standard techniques were effective to some degree, but had proven incapable of identifying suppliers and revealing the manner and means of supply. The fact that normal techniques might have succeeded to some degree does not foreclose the necessity of a wiretap, Bennett, 219 F.3d at 1122, and the affidavit explains why that information alone would be insufficient to identify all alleged conspirators and sources of supply. Confidential sources either had limited knowledge (CS1), had lost Defendant Washington's trust during a botched controlled buy (CS2), or did not know Washington well enough to get close (CS3). Washington's demonstrated knowledge of task force personnel and vehicles made physical surveillance and undercover agents of little value. Search warrants would not have identified all members and might cause them to stop operating, compromising the investigation. Pen registers yielded limited information on supply. Financial records and public filings identified some principals, but were no use in identifying sources of supply and satellite conspirators.

These case-specific reasons meet the standard for necessity under Ninth Circuit precedent, which has upheld a necessity finding where "1) continued surveillance was not feasible due to [the suspects'] use of countersurveillance; 2) the use of a search warrant or grand jury proceeding would alert [the suspects] of an ongoing investigation; 3) informants and undercover agents could not determine the source of [the] drugs." Garcia-Villalba, 585 F.3d at 1231 (quoting United States v. Torres, 908 F.2d 1417, 1422 (9th Cir. 1990)). The same circumstances are present here.

The Defendants rely on Blackmon to support their contention that the government has filed to show necessity, but the facts of Blackmon are readily distinguishable. To begin, the necessity section of the application in Blackmon was lifted almost verbatim from a prior wiretap application relating to a different suspect, and the court found that virtually no new investigation had occurred between the two applications. 273 F.3d at 1206. The appellate panel also identified numerous material misstatements and omissions in the application, prompting the conclusion that the full and complete statement requirement of 18 U.S.C. § 2518(1)(c) was not met. Id. at 1208-10. After striking the various misstatements, the Blackmon court reviewed the remaining assertions in the affidavit, which contained little more than boilerplate discussion of the inherent limitations of certain investigative procedures, and concluded that the purged application failed to show necessity. Id. at 1210-11.

The facts of this case are entirely different. Here, the investigation was targeted at the these Defendants for several months, and little if any information in the application was obtained through other investigations. There are no material misstatements or omissions in the application, and there is extensive discussion of the methods and progress of the investigation. The Defendants rightly observe that the affidavit is not entirely free of the sort of boilerplate language that was rejected in Blackmon. Unlike the application in Blackmon, however, the affidavit in this case also contains a great deal of case-specific information. "The presence of conclusory language in the affidavit will not negate a finding of necessity if the affidavit, as a whole, alleges sufficient facts demonstrating necessity." Torres, 908 F.2d at 1423.

The wiretap application contains a full and complete statement of facts which support's the issuing court's finding of necessity. The motions to suppress based on failure to comply with the necessity requirement are denied.

2. Authorized official

Each application for a wiretap must identify for the reviewing judge the Department of Justice official who authorized the application. 18 U.S.C. § 2518(1)(a). The class of individuals who may authorize a wiretap application is limited by statute; the authorization must come from the Attorney General, or from certain other high-ranking officials who have been designated by the Attorney General. 18 U.S.C. § 2516(1). Deputy Assistant Attorneys General in the Criminal Division are statutorily eligible for designation to authorize wiretap applications. Id. Current Deputy Assistant Attorneys General in the Criminal Division have been designated as authorizing officials for wiretap applications under Department of Justice Standing Order No. 3055-2009, a publicly available document dated February 26, 2009 and signed by Attorney General Eric Holder.

A wiretap application that does not identify a qualified authorizing official within the Department of Justice is insufficient on its face, and any evidence derived therefrom must be suppressed. 18 U.S.C. § 2518(10)(a)(ii); United States v. Lomeli, 676 F.3d 734, 741-42 (9th Cir. 2012). Defendant Fleming argues that the intercepted communications and derivative evidence must be suppressed for failure to identify a qualified authorizing official.

However, the applications in this case contained authorization memoranda signed by Deputy Assistant Attorneys General in the Criminal Division Jacob Weinstein and Kenneth Blanco. Doc. Nos. 212-1 & 212-2. Each authorization memorandum referred to Standing Order No. 3055-2009 by order number and date, and stated that "the undersigned" is a duly designated official under the standing order. Id. Fleming relies on Lomeli to argue that the applications are facially invalid because Standing Order No. 3055-2009 was not attached to the applications. The argument is unpersuasive.

Lomeli was a case in which the application did not identify any authorizing Department of Justice official. The application in Lomeli merely stated that "an appropriate official of the Criminal Division" had given authorization. 676 F.3d at 737. Here, the authorizing officers were identified by name and had in fact been duly designated. Nothing in 18 U.S.C. § 2518 requires that the reviewing judge be provided the document designating the authorizing official, and Fleming has cited no other authority for such a requirement. It was enough for the authorization memoranda to refer to the publicly available Standing Order by number and date. The motion to suppress based on failure to identify an authorized approving official is denied.

3. Sealing

Defendant Fleming argues that the wiretap evidence should be suppressed because the agents failed to arrange for the immediate sealing of the recordings. Section 2518(8)(a) requires recordings to be made available to the authorizing judge for sealing "[i]mmediately upon the expiration of the period of the order," which has been interpreted to require sealing within one to two days. Reed, 575 F.3d at 913. Any delay in excess of one or two days requires suppression unless the government explains why the delay occurred and gives a satisfactory explanation for why the delay is excusable. United States v. Ojeda Rios, 495 U.S. 257, 265 (1990). Multiple causes for delay may be considered together. United States v. Pedroni, 958 F.2d 262, 266 (9th Cir. 1992). The length of the delay is not a dispositive factor and delays of up to 118 days have been excused. Id. A delay is more likely to be excused if the government took proper steps to insure integrity of the recordings during the delay. United States v. McGuire, 307 F.3d 1192, 1204 (9th Cir. 2002). Potentially satisfactory reasons for delay include unavailability of the supervising judge, Pedroni, 958 F.2d at 266; shortage of resources or personnel, id.; or an objectively reasonable belief on the part of the government that the delay was authorized by law. United States v. Hermanek, 289 F.3d 1076, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002). If the government acts pursuant to a court order postponing sealing, reliance on the order weighs heavily in favor of finding the explanation for the delay satisfactory. McGuire, 307 F.3d at 1204.

In this case the government failed to comply with the immediate sealing requirement, but has provided a satisfactory explanation for the four-day delay between the termination of electronic surveillance on November 18, 2011, and the issuance of an order sealing the recording on November 22, 2011.

The intercepted communications were recorded on a server physically located in Denver, Colorado, at the DEA divisional headquarters for the division covering Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah. The wiretap was terminated on the afternoon of Friday, November 18, 2011. DEA agents then burned the recordings onto Blu-ray disks and placed the disks in an evidence bag, sealing the bag and signing it in front of a witness. The evidence bag was then shipped that afternoon via FedEx to Special Agent Bryan Fillinger, the lead agent in this case, in Missoula, Montana. The shipment arrived in Missoula on Monday, November 21, 2011. The government filed a motion seeking to appear before the issuing court for sealing on November 21, 2011, but the approving court issued an order on that date stating that it was not available to supervise the sealing that day and directing the government to present the recordings for sealing on November 22, 2011, at which time the approving court entered an order sealing the recordings.

The recordings were stored in a safe in Special Agent Fillinger's office from November 21 to November 22.

The foregoing facts constitute a satisfactory explanation for the four-day interval between the termination of electronic surveillance and the sealing of the recordings by the approving court. The agents shipped the recordings the day the wiretap ended, and the government was prepared to present them for sealing on the day they arrived in Missoula. The DEA's choice to record the communications to a server at its divisional headquarters in Denver is reasonable, and were it not for the fact that the shipping occurred over a weekend the recording likely would have been in Missoula the day after the wiretap was terminated. The approving court was unavailable on November 21, and the government appropriately relied on the approving court's order delaying presentation for sealing until the next day. The government at all times took appropriate steps to insure the integrity of the recordings through secure sealing and storage. The delay was brief, it occurred for satisfactory reasons, and the quality of the electronic evidence was not jeopardized. The motion to suppress for failure to timely seal the recordings is denied

B. Motions to dismiss on estoppel grounds: Defendants Fleming and Sann's motions to dismiss under the doctrine of judicial estoppel (Doc. Nos. 150, 155); Defendants Sann and Washington's motions to dismiss based on estoppel by official misleading (Doc. Nos. 156, 182); Defendant Sann's motion to dismiss based on promissory estoppel (Doc. No. 154) All of the pending motions to dismiss on estoppel grounds rely on the common underlying principle that the federal government, having stated several times that it would not initiate federal drug prosecutions of sellers or users of medical marijuana acting in compliance with the laws of their respective states, should now be estopped from pursuing this federal prosecution in contradiction of those statements. The most prominent of the federal government's various pronouncements on the topic of medical marijuana is what has become known as the "Ogden memo."

Written by Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and issued on October 19, 2009, the Ogden memo purports to "provide[] clarification and guidance to federal prosecutors in States that have enacted laws authorizing the medical use of marijuana." Ogden memo (Doc. No. 196-1 at 1). In the Ogden Memo, the Department of Justice communicated to its attorneys that certain marijuana users and providers would be a lower priority for prosecution than others. Id. at 1-2 ("As a general matter, pursuit of [the Department's] priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."). However, the Ogden memo also made clear that medical marijuana activity that may be authorized under state law remains illegal under federal law:

The Department of Justice is committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all states. This guidance regarding resource allocation does not 'legalize' marijuana or provide a legal defense to a violation of federal law, nor is it intended to create any privileges, benefits, or rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable by any individual, party, or witness in any administrative, civil, or criminal matter. Nor does clear and unambiguous compliance with state law. . . create a legal defense to a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

Id. at 2. The Ogden memo did not state that medical marijuana users and providers would be exempt from prosecution. Id. at 2-3 ("Nor does this guidance preclude investigation or prosecution, even where there is clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws, in particular circumstances where investigation or prosecution otherwise serves important federal interests.").

As the Court has stated previously, the analysis of these pending motions proceeds under the assumption that the Defendants in this case acted in compliance with state law at all times relevant to the conduct charged in the Indictment.

1. Judicial estoppel

The Defendants seek to invoke the doctrine of judicial estoppel based on the government's entry into a stipulation to dismiss a civil case against it in County of Santa Cruz v. Holder, No. C 03-1802 JF (N.D. Cal. 2009), a federal district court case in California. The plaintiffs in Santa Cruz sought to enjoin federal raids and seizures against suppliers and users of medical marijuana, but stipulated to dismiss upon the issuance of the Ogden memo. The stipulation was filed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) and stated that, "As a result of the issuance of the [Ogden memo], plaintiffs agree to dismiss this case without prejudice." Santa Cruz, No. C 03-1802 JF, Doc. No. 223 at 1. The stipulation further provided that "if Defendants withdraw, modify, or cease to follow the [Ogden memo], this case may be reinstituted in its present posture[.]" Id. at 2. The parties filed the signed stipulation with a blank signature line for the presiding judge, and the same document was re-filed four days later with the judge's signature. Santa Cruz, No. C 03-1802 JF, Doc. No. 225.

The Defendants argue that the Department of Justice, having obtained a stipulation to dismiss the Santa Cruz matter based on the issuance of the Ogden memo, should be judicially estopped from bringing prosecutions against the Defendants in this Court because they were lawful medical marijuana suppliers under Montana law.

The doctrine of judicial estoppel is intended to protect the integrity of the judicial process by prohibiting a party from gaining an advantage in litigation by one theory and then seeking an inconsistent advantage by later pursuing an incompatible theory. Hamilton v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 270 F.3d 778, 782 (9th Cir. 2001). Judicial estoppel is an equitable remedy the application of which is left to the discretion of the district court. Russell v. Rolfs, 893 F.2d 1033, 1037 (9th Cir. 1990). Among the factors to be considered are: 1) whether a party has taken a position that is clearly inconsistent with its earlier position; 2) whether the party succeeded in persuading the court to adopt its earlier position; and 3) whether, in the absence of estoppel, the party seeking to assert an inconsistent position would "derive an unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment on the opposing party[.]" New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 750-51 (2001).

The Defendants' argument for dismissal under the doctrine of judicial estoppel based on the events in Santa Cruz was squarely rejected by the court in Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana v. Holder, 2011 WL 5914031 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 28, 2011) ("Marin I"), and a subsequent unreported order dated July 10, 2012, in the same case. Marin, No. C 11-05349 SBA, Doc. No. 52 ("Marin II"). This Court finds the reasoning in Marin I and Marin II to be persuasive in all respects.*fn2

None of the three factors articulated by the Supreme Court in New Hampshire favors the application of judicial estoppel in this case. To begin, there is no clear inconsistency between the position taken by the government as a civil defendant in Santa Cruz and the government's decision to charge the Defendants in this case with federal drug crimes. The stipulation filed by the parties in Santa Cruz merely states that the plaintiffs agree to dismiss their case in light of the Ogden memo, and unambiguously contemplates that the government may "withdraw, modify, or cease to follow" the Ogden memo at a later date. The Odgen memo makes clear that the federal government retains the ...

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