SAN FRANCISCO — Medical marijuana advocates faced another setback Tuesday, when a federal judge in Sacramento dismissed a lawsuit claiming that the Obama administration broke its promise to leave the pot industry alone when it began an aggressive crackdown against California dispensaries last fall.
Proponents of the suit cited President Obama’s 2009 Ogden Memo, which told federal prosecutors to concentrate their efforts on large drug trafficking networks and “not focus federal resources” on medical marijuana operations in states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes.
But in a sharp reversal of the memo, federal authorities announced a renewed effort to target pot dispensaries throughout California last October, claiming the industry had ballooned to unprecedented proportions.
In the four months since the reinstated crackdown, a number of medical cannabis clubs across the state have been forced to shut down, including five in San Francisco and the legendary Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Marin County, California’s oldest. The District Attorney’s office has begun investigating 12 more stores in San Francisco this year.
The U.S. attorneys going after such dispensaries have justified their actions mainly by claiming the shops operate too close to parks and schools.
Pot activists have fought back, arguing the federal government should focus its energy elsewhere and not interfere with states abiding by their own laws.
“It’s a total waste of resources,” Stephanie Tucker, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Task Force, told The Huffington Post. “They’re attacking a peaceful, regulated community and it’s wasting money. Shame on them.”
The Sacramento lawsuit was one of a handful filed in November by cannabis suppliers and patients, who cited the Ogden Memo as the basis for their action. U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell, who reviewed the case in the capitol, justified his dismissal by claiming the memo was not a “binding commitment,” simply a statement of priorities.
Burrell’s ruling will allow for prosecutors to continue to take action against dispensaries operating throughout the state.
Matthew Kumin, a lawyer representing one of the dispensaries in the Sacramento case, told SF Weekly that the dismissal of the cases without allowing a fair trial is bogus. “The government’s blocking of us is irrational at this point,” Kumin said to SF Weekly. “It’s clear there’s medical use; circumstances have changed.”
Kumin pointed to federally-backed clinical trials of cannabis-based drugs such as Sativex as proof that scientists believe marijuana has a medical benefit. Despite that, he said he expects similar lawsuits in Oakland and Los Angeles to be dismissed this week.
“The judges know we’re in the right,” he said. “They just don’t want to admit it.”
Take a look at the video below for more on the issue: