Marijuana dispensary crackdown draws suit

October 27, 2011

Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle

The Obama administration's campaign against medical marijuana dispensaries in California is an unconstitutional attack on the state's authority to set its own health policies, an advocacy group charged in a lawsuit Thursday.

While the federal government is entitled to enforce its laws against marijuana possession, cultivation and sale, its recent tactics - including threats to prosecute dispensaries' landlords and members of city councils that license pot suppliers - add up to an "unlawful assault on state sovereignty," Americans for Safe Access said in papers filed in San Francisco federal court.

"The government has interfered with and attempted to disable California's medical marijuana laws in an effort to force it to adopt and enforce federal prohibitions," attorney Joseph Elford said in the lawsuit.

There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department.

The suit followed an Oct. 7 news conference by California's four regional U.S. attorneys announcing new enforcement actions against suppliers of marijuana in a state that, 15 years ago, became the first to legalize its use for medical purposes.

The prosecutors said they had sent letters to dozens of property owners warning them that they faced forfeiture of their buildings, and possible felony prosecutions, unless they immediately evicted tenants that were supplying marijuana.

Dispensaries are using the state's medical marijuana law as a cover for drug profiteering, the prosecutors alleged.

Medical marijuana advocates accused President Obama of reneging on his 2008 campaign promise to let states regulate therapeutic use of the drug, with minimal federal interference.

The Justice Department replied that it was targeting commercial enterprises, not seriously ill patients and their caregivers. In Thursday's lawsuit, however, Americans for Safe Access said prosecutors are cutting off patients' supplies of medical marijuana, including collectives that fully comply with state law.

The suit also cited U.S. attorneys' recent warnings to elected officials in Chico, Eureka and Arcata (Humboldt County) that they could be prosecuted under federal law for licensing marijuana dispensaries. Chico and Arcata backed off after receiving the threats, the suit said.



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