A Californian medical marijuana advocacy group is taking up a civil case against the federal government in an effort to stop federal raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in California. The group is taking the unusual move as a result of frustration and despair of the Justice Department’s unwavering attack on medical marijuana growers and dispensaries all over California.
The group, called Americans For Safe Access, is taking US Attorney General Eric Holder to court, with the justification that the Justice Department raids go against the 10th amendment of the US constitution. While marijuana remains an illegal substance in the US, even for medicinal purposes, state governments are ostensibly free to legislate medical marijuana as they see fit. Medical marijuana dispensaries and growers have been licensed and permitted in California since 1996 with relatively minimal intervention from federal authorities.
However, of late the US Justice Department has instigated a sustained campaign of attack against medical marijuana businesses, and the Californian state legislature has failed to protect these dispensaries and growers from federal intervention.
The lawsuit brought by Americans For Safe Access against Attorney General Holder (as well as northern California federal prosecutor Melinda Haag) alleges that this federal aggression violates the 10th amendment, which states that the federal government cannot compel state authorities to contravene state law.
While federal raids do not violate the constitution in principle, Americans For Safe Access allege that federal prosecutors and the Attorney General have sent letters threatening local officials if they go against federal laws and implement state law. They claim that the federal government has become increasingly more aggressive and draconian in their quest to uphold federal law, and the situation has become untenable in the state.
Americans For Safe Access cites a federal communiqué delivered to the city of Oakland, California. In this letter, local officials were warned of federal prosecution if they failed to enforce federal law. The legal precedent is that this action is unconstitutional. While federal authorities are completely within their rights to enforce federal law, they are unable to compel state or city authorities to do the same.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty clear case. While Americans For Safe Access will do well to win this lawsuit against the legal might of the federal government’s prosecutors, there is no doubt this will draw attention to their plight in the local and national media.
This will undoubtedly cause the federal government’s prosecutors and the Attorney General to be very careful how they address local officials in future. The federal marijuana enforcement program would be put in jeopardy by further unconstitutional acts, and there is no doubt that they will seek to preserve the integrity of this program by stopping the threats against officials working at the state and local level. Whether this will be a good thing for medical marijuana in California as a whole remains to be seen.