California judges have been advised that it would be unethical for them to invest in marijuana businesses.
That was the conclusion of a formal opinion, announced Wednesday, of a judicial ethics opinion committee appointed by the California Supreme Court.
The San Francisco-based committee said that while medical marijuana and recreational marijuana have been decriminalized in California, the substance is still illegal under federal law.
Having a financial interest in a marijuana enterprise would therefore be incompatible with a judge’s obligation to follow the law, the opinion said.
The committee wrote, “A reasonable person could easily conclude that a judge’s disregard of federal law creates an appearance of impropriety and casts doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially, particularly in marijuana-related cases.”
The committee noted that despite the decriminalization of medical and recreational marijuana, “there will continue to be numerous marijuana-related cases in the courts.”
The advisory opinion applies to the more than 1,700 judges in the California state court system, including superior court judges and justices of the state Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
California voters approved initiatives protecting medical marijuana users from prosecution in 1996 and protecting recreational users over the age of 21 this past November.
But possessing, manufacturing or selling marijuana remains a crime under federal law. The committee said that judges with a financial interest in manufacturing or selling marijuana could therefore be subject to federal prosecution.
The committee also said judges have a duty to learn whether any of their financial or property interests involve a marijuana business.
The committee is made up of 12 judges and other court officers. It has the responsibility of providing opinions and advice to inform judges and the public on judicial ethics topics.