The City of Oakland has not yet given up the fight to keep the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary, an operation widely-recognized to benefit not only patients but the community and taxpayers as well.
Our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers have been closely watching the showdown, which involves the unprecedented move of city leaders standing up to the U.S. Attorney's Office in an effort to prevent the dispensary from being forced to shutter its doors due to a civil forfeiture action.
Civil forfeiture actions have been initiated against marijuana facilities across the country as a bully tactic to force closure by threatening either the business or the building owner with government seizure. In doing so, the government employs a previously little-used loophole in the law that was created to seize large assets from criminal drug cartel and mob bosses.
Federal prosecutors have been gunning for Harborside's closure for years now. In a move many in the marijuana industry found both surprising and incredibly encouraging, the City of Oakland jumped to Harborside's defense in the matter, naming itself as an interested party in the case. The city says it has standing because it has the right to license and regulate dispensaries under state law.
However, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has argued that medical marijuana facilities are illegal drug operations. She is attempting to take Harborside properties in both San Jose and Oakland under a clause of the Controlled Substances Act.
The city responded by filing a lawsuit against both the U.S. Justice Department and Haag. The property is owned by a separate party, who has been renting it to Harborside.
Previously, a federal judge had ruled that Oakland has no legal standing in the case, as it is technically filed against the building owner.
However, the city is appealing that decision. It has requested that a magistrate judge in the forfeiture case put all actions on hold until such time that the appeals court can rule about the city's standing.
The city says it has a right to be involved because the closure of Harborside via the forfeiture action would negatively affect the city in a way that is unique from other forfeiture actions.
A private attorney who is representing the city pro bono has argued that to close down Harborside would be to create a health and public safety hazard. The concern is that the thousands of patients that use the facility would be forced to obtain their medicine from the black market. As such, the city would end up with a scourge of unregulated drug deals from unlicensed vendors which would be a drain on the city, rather than a benefit.
If the city is unsuccessful at the appellate level, it will have no more legal remedies. The federal government argues the city is only using this as a tactic to delay action.
However, it would seem as if the city has presented a fair amount of evidence to show that it has a legitimate cause for appeal. If it is successful, it would open the door to other communities that wish to fight to maintain well-run, beneficial dispensaries.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
Oakland back in federal court to fight closure of medical marijuana dispensary, June 20, 2013, By Paul T. Rosynsky, Oakland Tribune
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Riverside Marijuana Delivery Services Banned by Council, June 25, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog