SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The 25-year-old daughter of Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray of San Diego is among several medical marijuana advocates suing the U.S. Justice Department to prevent the closure of pot dispensaries.
Briana Bilbray is part of a coalition of patients, storefront collectives and their landlords who began filing lawsuits Friday in all four federal judicial districts in California -- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego.
The move comes after U.S. attorneys set various deadlines for dispensaries to shut down or risk criminal prosecution and forfeiture of their properties.
Though Californians voted to allow medical marijuana use, the legal statewide practice violates federal law.
Bilbray said she used medical marijuana after being diagnosed with stage 3 melanoma and that patients were being unfairly punished by having access their medication cut off, a local news source reported. She also complained that federal prosecutors were infringing on the rights of Californians.
Rep. Bilbray issued a statement regarding his daughter's participation in the action.
"Karen and I raised our children to be strong individuals who think for themselves," he said. "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."
The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the lawsuits, which challenge the stepped-up enforcement efforts that California's four federal prosecutors jointly announced last month, when they vowed to target dispensary operators and growers violating state law bans on for-profit sales.
The four prosecutors have taken different enforcement approaches, including sending letters to dispensary landlords threatening to seize their property.
Matt Kumin, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys, told the Los Angeles Times that the plaintiffs plan to ask the judges assigned to the cases for temporary restraining orders halting the crackdown.
"The government has gone well down the road to allowing medical cannabis in the United States," he said. "It can't reverse itself now, particularly because of the promises it made to the American people and the federal judiciary. They're stuck."
The lawsuits argue that the federal government's threats to prosecute dispensary owners and their landlords conflict with an agreement that led a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit by patients with the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, according to The Times. In that case, the government said it would not use federal resources against medical marijuana patients who complied with state law.
"You tell people, `Hey, you can do this,' and they rely on it, and the next thing you know, they can get arrested. It's entrapment," Kumin, a San Francisco lawyer working with a team of attorneys who specialize in medical marijuana litigation, told The Times.
The lawsuits were filed Friday and Monday against U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart and each of the four federal prosecutors in California.
They argue that beefed-up enforcement "will eviscerate and likely eradicate" California's established medical marijuana system, which relies on storefront dispensaries.
"California now has an entrenched cultivation and distribution network of medical cannabis supplying approximately 1,000,000 patients," states one of the suit states, according to The Times. It adds that the network generates annual revenue estimated at between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion, and annual sales taxes of $50 million to $100 million.
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