Last week Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the Justice Department's crackdown on medical marijuana in California violates the 10th Amendment. The complaint (PDF) alleges that the federal government "has instituted a policy to dismantle the medical marijuana laws of the State of California and coerce its municipalities to pass bans on medical marijuana dispensaries." That policy features raids on dispensaries, forfeiture and prosecution threats against their landlords, warnings that newspapers could be held criminally liable for carrying medical marijuana ads, and threats to local officials seeking to regulate dispensaries or growing operations. ASA cites letters in which U.S. attorneys warned officials in Chico and Eureka against proceeding with plans to authorize cultivation of medical marijuana; in response, both cities abandoned those plans. ASA says the "coordinated enforcement actions" announced by the the state's four U.S. attorneys on October 7 "have also derailed the regulatory efforts of local governments in Arcata, El Centro, Sacramento and other municipalities across the state."
In short, ASA argues, the Justice Department is not simply enforcing the federal ban on marijuana (as the Supreme Court has said it has the authority to do, even in states that allow medical use) but doing so in a way intended to undermine state and local policy choices. "While the government is entitled to enforce its criminal laws against marijuana…in an even-handed manner," the complaint says, "the Tenth Amendment forbids it from selectively employing such coercive tactics to commandeer the law-making functions of the State."