Law enforcement officers pile marijuana plants outside of a warehouse on Feb. 27, 2018 in Lewiston. Credit: Andree Kehn / Sun Journal via AP

Two alleged Maine marijuana traffickers can be prosecuted on drug charges, an appeals court ruled on Thursday in a crucial test of a congressional act seeking to prevent many federal drug enforcement actions in states with medical marijuana laws.

The case came out of a 2018 raid on 20 properties in the Lewiston-Auburn area in which law enforcement seized more than 600 pounds of marijuana and a number of cars, including a $190,000 Lamborghini. More than a dozen were charged as part of an alleged trafficking ring operating under the guise of Maine’s medical marijuana laws that sold marijuana out of state.

Two of them, amateur golfer Brian Bilodeau of Auburn and Tyler Poland of Greene, challenged their prosecutions under protections passed by Congress in 2014 barring the federal government from spending money in a way that prevents states from regulating medical marijuana. Maine is one of 36 states allowing it and has since legalized marijuana for adult use, while marijuana remains fully illegal at the federal level.

Bilodeau and Poland were turned back by the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday in just the second test of the congressional amendment, which was championed by former U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, who now lives in York, Maine. The ruling could further clarify long-murky boundaries between federal and state marijuana enforcement.

In his decision, Judge William Kayatta said the legal record “amply supports the finding” that the two were engaged in selling marijuana to non-patients. Because Bilodeau and Poland were clearly violating Maine laws, he said they failed to establish that their prosecution was barred.

“The conduct that drew the government’s attention was the defendants’ cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana aimed at supplying persons whom no defendant ever thought were qualifying patients under Maine law,” Kayatta wrote.

The ruling in the Maine case dovetails with the last major test of the Rohrabacher amendment in the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in 2016 that the federal government could not prosecute medical marijuana growers who were obeying state laws.

But Kayatta applied a test that could rein in the federal government in future cases. He criticized prosecutors’ assertion that the California ruling technically allows them to prosecute any medical marjuana grower who is not in “strict compliance” with state law.

Instead of that, he said Congress was likely envisioning “a more nuanced scope of prohibition” that would “consider the practical effect of a federal prosecution on the state’s ability to implement its laws.”

Bilodeau’s lawyer Jamesa Drake did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether she would appeal the ruling, but she told Reuters that it had not been ruled out.

The case was particularly notable in Maine because of Bilodeau’s connection to Kevin Dean and Emile Clavet, two businessmen who once ran Electricity Maine, a private electricity seller that settled a class-action lawsuit alleging deceptive business practices for $14 million in 2020.

Dean ran a company that is facing criminal charges alongside Bilodeau and Poland that is also contesting the prosecution. He has not been charged himself.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...