Attorney General Sued Over Medical Marijuana Crackdown


October 28, 2011

A medical marijuana advocacy group has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the top federal prosecutor in California over the recent crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

The lawsuit, filed by Americans for Safe Access, accuses the Obama administration of using coercive tactics to interfere with state powers protected under the 10th Amendment.

Earlier this month, four U.S. attorneys in California — the country’s largest marijuana market — launched a coordinated, statewide offensive against the dispensaries, announcing a series of civil forfeiture lawsuits and warning at least 16 to shut down or face criminal charges and confiscation of property.

“They’re not just enforcing marijuana laws, they are doing something extremely unusual in an effort to quash the medical marijuana programs in the various states,” Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, told The Los Angeles Times. “They’re not allowed to commandeer the lawmaking functions of the state.”

But the four U.S. attorneys behind California’s crackdown are distancing themselves from the feds, emphasizing that the administration “never even green-lighted the ramped-up enforcement actions.”

Lauren Horwood, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in California’s Eastern District, told The Huffington Post that the only official in Washington with whom they had coordinated was Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

“[W]e didn’t have direct talks with Eric Holder — not that we wouldn’t, he’s been out and visited — but just the way the Department of Justice works, he’s not that hands-on on these kinds of details,” said Horwood.

Support for legalizing marijuana is at an all-time high, but the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) recently ranked President Obama as the worst president in history when it comes to medical marijuana, citing a number of recent moves to enforce federal laws against marijuana.

“During his run for the presidency, Barack Obama instilled hope in medical marijuana supporters by pledging to respect state laws on the matter,” wrote Rob Kampia, the MPP’s executive director. “And for the first two years of his term, he was generally faithful to his promise. Yet suddenly, and with no logical explanation, over the past eight months he has become arguably the worst president in U.S. history regarding medical marijuana.”

Despite the crackdown, one state is making a bold move.

On Wednesday, Colorado became the first state in the nation to issue medical-marijuana business licenses. The state has some of the most comprehensive cannabis regulations, which medical marijuana advocates credit with protecting businesses from federal raids taking place in other states. Deputy Attorney General Cole was in Colorado the other day, but refused to say whether the California crackdown would spread to other states.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, and more than a third of all states are experimenting with some form of legalization or decriminalization.

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