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Fed crackdown on medical marijuana is unconstitutional, lawsuit claims

A medical marijuana advocacy group sued U.S. Justice Department officials in federal court in San Francisco Thursday, claiming that the current federal crackdown on medical marijuana enterprises in California is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit by Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access charges that federal prosecutors are violating the 10th Amendment of the Constitution by allegedly selectively targeting medical marijuana, rather than all marijuana, and coercing local governments to withdraw regulations for growing or selling the drug for medical use.

The 10th Amendment reserves to states any powers that are not delegated by the Constitution to the federal government.

“While the government is entitled to enforce its laws against marijuana…in an even-handed manner, the Tenth Amendment forbids it from selectively employing such coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the state,” the lawsuit claimed.

The lawsuit was filed against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.

It seeks an injunction requiring officials to cease the allegedly unconstitutional actions.

California was the first of 16 states to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Its Compassionate Use Act, approved by California voters as Proposition 215 in 1996, permits seriously ill patients to use marijuana with a doctor's permission.

But federal laws criminalizing marijuana make no exception for state laws.

The lawsuit was filed in response to an Oct. 7 announcement by the four regional U.S. attorneys in California that they will boost criminal and civil enforcement efforts to shut down large-scale commercial marijuana enterprises.

The prosecutors said then that they are not targeting individual patients, but rather are going after profit-making businesses that operate in the guise of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“The statewide enforcement effort is aimed at curtailing the large, for-profit marijuana industry that has developed since the passage of California's Proposition 215 in 1996,” the Justice Department said earlier this month.  

The lawsuit says Americans for Safe Access is not challenging the authority of Congress to enact federal laws criminalizing marijuana possession or the authority of the government to enforce its drug laws.

“It is, rather, the government's tactics, and the unlawful assault on state sovereignty they represent” that forms the basis of the lawsuit, the group asserted in its filing.

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