No. 1 Marijuana Dispensary No Longer a Federal Target

The California marijuana industry just scored a stunning victory as federal prosecutors announced an end to a years-long fight to shutter and seize the assets of Harborside Health Center in Oakland. With some 100,000 patients, the center is the biggest marijuana dispensary in the nation.marijuana2

Now, federal prosecutors say they are giving up.

The center had been the subject of scorn by former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag since 2012. The effort to shut down the dispensary was part of a bigger mission to close down the entire medical marijuana industry in California. This decision has shown that effort now to have been unsuccessful. 

In a statement released by Steve DeAngelo, the facility’s executive director, the facility underscored its promise to “never abandon our patients.”

Mayor Libby Schaaf expressed delight, calling this, “A great day for Oakland and for all of California.” She went on to say the federal government had wasted precious resources and tax dollars on a misguided effort that ultimately served only to impede the efforts of Californians to have safe and legal access to medicinal marijuana.

Harborside was far from the only dispensary caught up in the federal crackdown. Unfortunately, many of those were forced to close down. Our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers know one of the reasons Harborside was able to stand its ground was because it had the resources to do so. The facility (which also has a branch in San Jose) rakes in an estimated $25 million annually in marijuana sales.

On the flip side, it was this success that made it a jewel of a target for Haag. She filed her civil forfeiture action against the facility in the summer of 2012, asserting that its operations were in direct conflict with U.S. drug statutes. In a civil forfeiture action, prosecutors can seize money and assets that are proven to be derived from illegal drug profits. The law was originally intended to give prosecutors the power to pursue drug lords – not medical marijuana dispensaries.

Still, Haag insisted that the facility was so big that it could not avoid the propensity to abuse California’s medical marijuana laws. The dispensary was unable to keep the drugs out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have it, she insisted.

But Harborside had some powerful friends ready to go to bat. The City of Oakland, for example, filed its own lawsuit against the federal government, seeking to block the U.S. Department of Justice form seizing the facility’s property. Ultimately, that lawsuit was dismissed – a decision affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit – because the city wasn’t actually a party to the original action (despite the city’s assertion that it had a vested interest in the outcome).

Still, the dispensary won a number of legal victories that kept it open pending the federal legal challenges.

Two years ago, Congress approved a measure that blocks the DOJ from using federal money to pursue medical marijuana facilities in states where the drug is legal.

Although federal prosecutors have declined to comment on the case, it does appear this signals the waning of the federal war in marijuana in California.

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

Additional Resources:

Feds Give Up on Effort to Seize Nation’s Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary, May 4, 2016, By Phillip Smith, The Daily Chronic

More Blog Entries:

Medical Cannabis Employees in California Required to be Patients Themselves, April 17, 2016, L.A. Medical Marijuana Lawyer