Friday, February 15, 2013

City of Oakland Loses Lawsuit Against Department of Justice; Harborside Forfeiture Case Proceeds

By David Downs
Fri, Feb 15, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Major Oakland medical marijuana dispensary Harborside Health Center will have to battle federal forfeiture attempts — without the City of Oakland in the ring with them.

Yesterday, reports indicate Chief Federal Magistrate Maria-Elena James granted a motion by the U.S. government to dismiss a lawsuit filed by City of Oakland against Attorney General Eric Holder and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Oakland's suit sought to prevent Haag from attempting to close Harborside Health Center, arguably the world's largest dispensary, with about 100,000 members.

Ms. Haag filed suit in July to seize Harborside's leased building at 1840 Embarcadero with the goal of shutting the club down. The actions come as part of a 16 month-long federal/state pot crackdown which has closed scores of legal, well-regulated dispensaries in the Bay Area.

DeAngelo and Harborside Health Center
  • DeAngelo and Harborside Health Center
Lawyers for the City of Oakland sued to stop the Department of Justice, arguing that shutting down the dispensary would rob the city of about $1.4 million in annual sales taxes, and send tens of thousands of patients into the streets to buy marijuana. Oakland is the first city to stand up and defend its regulated dispensaries in court, unlike San Francisco.

U.S. Attorneys moved to dismiss Oakland's lawsuit, and on Thursday Judge James upheld the motion, noting that under federal law, only the dispensary and its landlords have the standing to contest the U.S. government's attempted seizure of the property.

Lawyers for Harborside and Haag will be due back in court in the coming weeks in preparation for the forfeiture trial.

In a statement, Harborside CEO Steve DeAngelo said he thanked the City for its help, looks forward to Harborside's jury trial, and said the dispensary remains open.

"We are, of course, disappointed in today's ruling," wrote DeAngelo. "But the message of Oakland's lawsuit remains powerful and relevant: the city council and mayor have determined that if Harborside Health Center is closed, the entire city will be harmed. ... We continue to look forward to our own day in court, and are confident that a Bay Area jury will recognize Harborside's positive contributions and decline to shut our doors. In the meantime, Harborside will continue to provide our patients with the very best cannabis medicines we can find, in the safest and most beautiful environment we can create, with the very highest level of care and service."

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