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Friday, November 4, 2011

Gavin Newsom, SF Supes Blast Feds' War on Medical Marijuana

Posted By on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Drug warrior in words only?
  • Drug warrior in words only?

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom shared a Los Angeles stage on Thursday with GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico who wants to end marijuana prohibition and free all nonviolent marijuana offenders from jail.

While it's unlikely Newsom would sacrifice his political future for such an idea, the former San Francisco mayor was in good company as he offered up some strong words against the federal government's crackdown on California's 15-year-old medical marijuana laws at the Drug Policy Alliance's Drug Reform Conference.

But Newsom can provide more than a soundbite -- as a private California citizen, he has reason to join in the lawsuit Americans for Safe Access filed against the feds last week. Newsom can, as can Gov. Jerry Brown and every government entity from Sacramento down to San Francisco, which also put itself on record as opposing the federal crackdown this week.

So will they put their lawyers where their mouths are? Don't hold your breath.

ASA's suit alleges that when U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag, named as chief defendant in the claim, sent letters threatening several Bay Area dispensaries with closure, she and the Justice Department were violating the 10th Amendment. The 10th Amendment, as most first-year law students will tell you, reserves powers to state and local governments that are not specifically granted to the Uncle Sam.

Local governments have successfully challenged federal power before: One landmark case is New York v. United States, in which the Supreme Court agreed with the state that a federal radioactive waste-control policy violated the 10th Amendment and exceeded the powers granted to Congress under the Commerce Clause.

And a California government has also sued the feds over medical marijuana: Santa Cruz joined in the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana's suit when DEA agents raided the collective's garden in 2002. The case was dismissed in 2010, but since then, federal activity has been virtually nonexistent in banana slug land.

ASA chief counsel Joe Elford would welcome with open briefcase the addition of big names like "Newsom" or "San Francisco" to his suit. "This state's medical marijuana laws are under attack by the federal government," he said Thursday. "It would be extremely beneficial for state and local officials to step up to the plate and help ward off this attack."

So is the loquacious Newsom good for more than lip service? Continuing a trend that began when his boss took office, Newsom spokesman Francisco Castillo did not respond to a request for comment. One of these days, Francisco, one of these days.

Any decision for San Francisco to sue rests with City Attorney Dennis Herrera. A spokesman for Herrera, who is running for mayor in the election Tuesday, likewise did not immediately respond to SF Weekly.

Keep in mind that the Board of Equalization collects a 9 percent sales tax every time a California medical marijuana dispensary makes a sale. In other words, that's our money -- and our roads, our schools, our you-name-it -- the feds are fucking with.

"These funds benefit all citizens," observed San Francisco attorney Kenneth Wine (including, for example, Haag herself). "State and local officials should absolutely join in on this lawsuit.... You'd think that they, too, are tired of this intimidation by the federal government, and that they, too have an obligation to stand up for the rights of their constituents."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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