|Marylanders 4 Safe Access|
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a medical marijuana advocacy organization, filed suit in federal court on Thursday challenging the Obama Administration’s attempt to undercut local and state medical marijuana laws in California.
ASA argues in its lawsuit that Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has “instituted a policy to dismantle the medical marijuana laws of the State of California and to coerce its municipalities to pass bans on medical marijuana dispensaries.”
The DOJ policy has involved aggressive SWAT-style raids, criminal prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and providers and threats to local officials for merely implementing state law.
“Although the Obama Administration is entitled to enforce federal marijuana laws, the 10th Amendment forbids it from using coercive tactics to commandeer the lawmaking functions of the state,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit Thursday in San Francisco’s federal District Court.
|Joe Elford, ASA: “This case is aimed at restoring California’s sovereign and constitutional right to establish its own public health laws based on this country’s federalist principles”|
”This case is aimed at restoring California’s sovereign and constitutional right to establish its own public health laws based on this country’s federalist principles,” Elford said.
The ASA lawsuit, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, was filed on behalf of its 20,000 members in California who are directly and adversely affected by the DOJ’s actions.
California’s four U.S. Attorneys announced in a highly unusual press conference on October 7 that the DOJ would be engaging in a multi-pronged attack on the state’s medical marijuana laws involving enforcement action against state-compliant producers and distributors, as well as threatening their landlords with criminal prosecution and civil asset forfeiture.
In addition, the same four U.S. Attorneys have been sending threatening letters to several municipalities across California in an attempt to undermine the passage of local medical marijuana regulations.
On July 1, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California sent a letter to Chico Mayor Ann Schwab stating the city’s proposed ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries would violate federal law. U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner also warned Chico’s city attorney, city manager, and police chief that council members and staff could face federal prosecution for attempting to implement such a law.
As a result, the Chico City Council voted on August 2 to rescind its medical marijuana dispensary ordinance.
On August 15, the Eureka City Council got a letter from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern Distirct of California threatening that its regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries violates federal law. Similar to the Chico letter, the Eureka letter said that the city’s publicly vetted licensing scheme “threatens the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing, and trafficking of controlled substances.”
The letter added that “If the City of Eureka were to proceed, this office would consider injunctive actions, civil fines, criminal prosecution, and the forfeiture of any property used to facilitate a violation of [federal law].”
Because of these threats, Eureka suspended implementation of its local medical marijuana ordinance.
The federal actions announced on October 7 by U.S. Attorneys have also detailed the regulatory efforts of local governments in Arcata, El Centro, Sacramento and other municipalities across the state.
Less than a week after the DOJ press conference, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted an early morning raid on October 13 at Northstone Organics, a fully licensed cultivation collective in Mendocino County. The DEA handcuffed the collective’s founder and his wife and cut down all 99 plants, which were each zip-tied and legally registered with the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department. Mendocino has one of the most tightly controlled medical marijuana cultivation ordinances in the state, overseen by Sheriff Tom Allman.
Several local and state officials have publicly blasted the Obama Administration’s tactics.
Mendocino County Supervisor Josh McCowen called the DEA raid on Northstone “outrageous,” and said “The elimination of of dispensaries that operate legally and openly will endanger patients and the public.”
Last week, the co-author of California’s Medical Marijuana Program Act, State Senator Mark Leno, “urge[d]the federal government to stand down in its massive attack on medical marijuana dispensaries.”
On October 21, State Attorney General Kamala Harris renounced the federal government’s tactics, saying “an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine,” and urging “federal authorities in the state to adhere to the [DOJ’s] stated policy” of allowing California to implement is medical marijuana laws without federal interference.
Although the lawsuit accuses the Obama Administration of commandeering California’s legislative function and interfering with local laws meant to distinguish between medical and non-medical use, it does not challenge the federal government’s authority to adopt and enforce marijuana laws.
The lawsuit states that “It is, rather, the … misuse of the government’s Commerce Clause powers, designed to deprive the State of its sovereign ability to chart a separate course, that forms the basis of the plaintiff’s claims.”