Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Harborside Wins Again in Court

By David Downs
Tue, Jan 8, 2013 at 8:16 AM

Magistrate Judge James allows sale of medical cannabis to continue at the Oakland dispensary, while US Attorney Melinda Haag's forfeiture case goes to trial.

In possibly the first verdict of its kind, a federal judge has just allowed the world's largest medical pot club to keep selling the federally illegal drug.

The stunning court victory occurred Monday when Harborside Health Center won the right to remain open while it fights federal forfeiture charges in the coming months and potentially years. US Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James ruled in favor of the huge club, denying two motions for preliminary injunctions from Harborside's landlords that would have forced an end to cannabis sales at Harborside's Oakland and San Jose locations.

Harborside medical cannabis
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of Northern California is trying to seize Harborside's two locations unless it stops selling state-legal medical cannabis. In response, Harborside's landlords asked a state judge to issue unlawful detainers evicting Harborside. The club quashed the motions, causing the landlords to take their case to federal Magistrate Judge James.

Judge James has now denied the landlords' motions as well. The landlords lack the authority to stop weed sales through such motions, Judge James wrote in her seventeen-page ruling. Adding, “there is nothing… indicating that Harborside's continued operation compromises the existence, value, or title of either the Oakland or San Jose Property.”

The court ruling stated, "Any argument about the urgency of stopping Harborside's activities rings hollow."

The club still faces a federal forfeiture trial, where its defense boils down to the novel argument that the government's statute of limitations to prosecute the club has run out. Harborside has operated publicly, with a city permit for six years, and serves about 100,000 members. Case precedent indicates the statute of limitations for the government to prosecute is five years, Harborside's attorneys argue. It would be poetic if Harborside's inherent openness is what sets it free, given that its mission has always been to bring medical marijuana 'out of the shadows and into the light'.

“Despite the government's efforts to shortcut the case, Harborside will now be able to fully defend itself at trial,” Harborside attorney Henry Wykowski wrote in a statement. “The stage is now set for a jury trial on the underlying issues of the litigation, which will probably take place in about one year.”

“We are grateful that Judge James carefully considered the facts and arguments in the Harborside case, and decided to grant us our day in court,” said HHC Executive Director Steve DeAngelo. “We have always believed that a Bay Area jury will recognize the value that Harborside brings to the community, and refuse to allow the federal government to seize the properties where we are located. We look forward to proving our case in front of a jury, and continue to believe we will prevail. In the meantime, we ask the Department of Justice to immediately freeze enforcement actions against Harborside and any other cannabis providers acting in full compliance with state law. Our nation’s law enforcement officers should concentrate on real crime.”

HHC operator Stephen DeAngelo and supporters speak at a protest against the forfeiture of Harborsides leased properties (July, 2012)
  • David Downs
  • HHC operator Stephen DeAngelo and supporters speak at a protest against the forfeiture of Harborside's leased properties (July, 2012)

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