A crackdown on pot outlets in California has prompted medical marijuana advocates to ask a federal court to halt the process. They say the crackdown penalizes people who use the drug for genuine health reasons.
Americans for Safe Access wants to prevent the federal government from moving to close California's pot dispensaries, which prosecutors accuse of using state law to cover up large-scale for-profit recreational drug sales.
In its suit the Oakland-based advocacy group claims that the Justice Department is trying to dismantle California's medical marijuana laws with raids and increased criminal prosecutions.
While the federal government is entitled to enforce medical marijuana laws, Safe Access says the little cited 10th Amendment of the Constitution forbids it from using coercive tactics to hijack the state's lawmaking authority.
"We're not saying that there should be no federal authority in other realms," Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said.
"We're just saying that as long as medical marijuana is legal in California, states should have the right to establish their own public health laws."
Federal prosecutors earlier this month announced a multipronged crackdown on dispensaries and have sent dozens of warning letters to landlords renting to dispensaries across the state.
The prosecutors say they are focusing on the for-profit operations that are banned by state law, but marijuana advocates say they are targeting other dispensaries as well.
"I have no problem with the feds going after people who are truly using cannabis laws as a front for criminal activity," said Steve DeAngelo, founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary on the West Coast.
"But they've also gone after some of the most respected people in the medical marijuana community."
Carmel Mireles, one of the defendants in the Safe Access suit, says she has watched the three dispensaries near her Chico close as a result of federal pressure.
"I will not have a safe place to go to receive my medications," said the 56 year-old breast-cancer patient.
"The thing about going to a dispensary is there is no calling a friend of a friend of a friend who might not treat you fairly."
But even Mireles admits that she does not use medical marijuana solely to allay her physical symptoms.
"I don't just ask for something to kill the pain during the day," she said. "Every once in a while I have to ask for a giggle. You get tired of being the brave person."