California’s Oldest Marijuana Dispensary Gets Favorable Ruling in Federal Court

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has been tenacious in her attempts to shut down the Berkeley Patients Group, touted as the state’s oldest medical marijuana dispensary.
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But recently, Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit issued an order backing the continued operation of the dispensary while litigation is pending. The shop first opened 15 years ago, and the news that it will be allowed to remain open for the time being is welcomed by the hundreds of patients it serves.

The dispensary’s marketing director called it “A small victory in the larger fight to secure safe access to medical cannabis…”

Early efforts to shutter the shop started four years ago, as part of Haag’s broader initiative to shut down dispensaries across the state. Specifically in her argument against the Berkeley Patients Group, Haag asserted the dispensary was too close to two local schools. This was despite the fact one of those schools, for the deaf, rise to the dispensary’s defense.

Still, with seemingly no choice, the dispensary closed its doors and then relocated to the other side of the city. That was in late 2012. Even still, Haag continued her fight, later asserting the right to seize the dispensary’s property under an outdated law intended to target the mafia and drug cartels. Her argument rested on the fact cannabis, while legal for medicinal purposes in California by state law since 1997, was still illegal under federal law and thus, operators were committing federal crimes.

At that point, the City of Berkeley rose to the defense of the dispensary, seeking to block the federal prosecutor’s action by arguing it would cause irreparable harm to the larger community. Unfortunately, a judge found last fall the city didn’t have appropriate standing on which to stake its claim.

However, that order is now being appealed. What the most recent ruling from the 9th Circuit means is the shop can stay open until the 9th Circuit has a chance to review the case file.

In the meantime, Haag’s office is still on a mission to shut down as many California cannabis dispensaries as possible. The country’s largest medical cannabis provider, the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, is fighting for its right o existence now too.

All of this is still happening in spite of a memo issued two years ago that instructed federal prosecutors to refrain from interference with medical marijuana operations in states where the practice is legal and the dispensaries adhere to a set of eight strict guidelines. Those guidelines include the implementation of measures such as ensuring the pot isn’t distributed to minors and that it stays out of the hands of criminal organizations. Further, Congress approved a law with a provision barring the use of federal dollars to target medical cannabis operations in states where they had already been approved. And then in January, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, on his way out of office, indicated the Justice Department’s new policy that would prohibit federal agencies from asset seizure absent a warrant. Yet, this is exactly what Haag is attempting to do with the Berkeley Patients Group.

The bottom line for dispensaries is that until the federal government rules on the legalization of medical cannabis, their operations will be at risk. Our marijuana lawyers are dedicated to using every available legal tool in order to protect our clients from aggressive actions from overzealous authorities like Haag, who ignore the science and public benefit of medical marijuana.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Federal Judge Rules In Favor Of California’s Oldest Marijuana Dispensary, Feb. 10, 2015, By Carly Schwartz, The Huffington Post
More Blog Entries:
Employment Rights of California Marijuana Patients, Feb. 14, 2015, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog