Lawsuits Filed Over Medical Marijuana Crackdown

San Diego medical marijuana advocates joined a series of lawsuits Monday seeking an immediate stop to the federal government’s statewide efforts to close dispensaries.

A coalition of patients, storefront collectives and their landlords beginning Friday filed lawsuits in all four California federal judicial districts — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego — where U.S. attorneys have set various deadlines for dispensaries to shut down or risk criminal prosecution and forfeiture of their properties.

Briana Bilbray, the 25-year-old daughter of Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego, is among the plaintiffs in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego that, among other claims, accuses the Department of Justice of entrapping marijuana providers by reversing its own policy.

That lawsuit names as defendants U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart and U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy of San Diego.

“Not only is the U.S. attorney infringing on my right as a California resident to obtain the medicine I need, but she is punishing me by making it more difficult to get the one thing I really need as a patient,” Briana Bilbray, a cancer survivor who has spoken out on behalf of patient cooperatives, said Monday in a prepared statement. “It is one of the worst feelings imaginable.”

Asked about his daughter’s involvement, Bilbray issued the following statement: “Karen and I raised our children to be strong individuals who think for themselves. I respect my daughter’s right to fight for what she believes in based on her personal experiences. We may not agree with our children on every issue, but Karen and I are very proud parents.”

Bilbray’s son, Imperial Beach City Councilman Brian Patrick Bilbray, recently cast the lone dissenting vote against a citywide ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, saying he supports marijuana access for patients but also was concerned about legal repercussions for the community.

The Justice Department and Duffy’s office declined to comment on the lawsuits Monday.

Other local plaintiffs in the 13-page lawsuit are Joy Greenfield, Light The Way, American Treatment Advancement Cooperative and Mother Earth’s Alternative Healing Cooperative, the first and only legally permitted dispensary in the region. An attorney for the El Cajon-based co-op referred questions about the case to P.J. Johnston, a San Francisco consultant speaking on behalf of the plaintiffs statewide.

He said the lawsuit called on the courts to put an immediate stop to the crackdown, citing an agreement between federal prosecutors and a medical marijuana collective in Santa Cruz. There, collective patients agreed to allow a federal judge to dismiss their case against the government after the Justice Department said it would not use federal resources against medical marijuana patients who complied with state law.

“The conduct of the government officials and their statement led the nation to believe that the government had changed its policy in 2009, ensuring that those who comply with state medical cannabis laws would not be subject to federal prosecution,” the lawsuit states.

In announcing the cases Monday in San Francisco, lead attorney Matt Kumin said his goal was to bring the federal government to the negotiating table to reach a compromise that allows a state medical marijuana program.

The cases claim that California has an “entrenched cultivation and distribution network of medical cannabis” supplying about 1 million patients. Advocates estimate its annual revenue at between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion.

“It is readily apparent, and there is no doubt, that the lawful medical marijuana program is a stimulus in an otherwise bleak economic picture,” the lawsuit states.

In addition to claiming the government is reneging on its promise, the lawsuits asserts that:

• Prohibiting medical marijuana in California violates the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection under the law because the federal government allows it in Colorado and provides the drug to patients through its own Compassionate Investigational New Drug program.

• Plans to “raid, arrest, prosecute, punish” and seek civil or administrative sanctions against the plaintiffs and confiscate their marijuana and property violate states rights under the 10th Amendment. • Interference with California’s regulation of the medical marijuana industry violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.

• Hampering patients’ ability to consult with their doctors violates the Ninth Amendment, which retains rights for citizens not spelled out in the Constitution.

The announcement came two weeks after the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access filed a federal lawsuit arguing the Obama administration was attempting to subvert state and local medical marijuana laws. The 17-page lawsuit seeks an injunction barring the Department of Justice from interfering with collectives that meet state and local.

California’s four federal prosecutors launched their campaign last month to shutdown profit-making marijuana dispensaries, accusing producers and distributors of using the state’s medical marijuana law as a cover for pushing illegal drugs.

Duffy mailed hundreds of letters beginning Oct. 4 warning collectives and their landlords to permanently close their doors within 45 days or risk criminal prosecution and property seizures. Her counterparts also fired off warnings to several municipalities targeting medical marijuana regulations that provided a path to legitimacy.

Duffy has characterized the state’s marijuana industry as pervasive and profit-driven.

Other local officials have waded into the federal-state conflict. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, and several congressional colleagues wrote to President Barack Obama on Oct. 28 urging him to reclassify marijuana as a legitimate controlled substance for medicinal purposes under federal law.

While the Drug Enforcement Administration recently denied a petition to do so, the members of Congress said California physicians would continue to recommend it to alleviate serious illnesses and medical conditions that have not responded to other medications and treatments.

Californians voted in 1996 to allow patients with a doctor’s approval to use marijuana and receive it from their caregivers. The measure passed 56 percent to 44 percent statewide and 52 percent to 48 percent in San Diego County.

However, its use remains illegal under federal law, which also does not recognize the need for medical marijuana as a defense in criminal cases.

– Article originally from Sign On San Diego.