Oakland filed a complaint in United States District Court today in an attempt to stop the feds from shutting down the state's largest medical marijuana dispensary.
The feds are trying to seize the building along the Embarcadero where the Harborside Health Center is located. The pot club was operating legally under a permit issued by Oakland City officials until July, when U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag filed the paperwork to seize the property, effectively closing it down. Harborside is the city's second-largest retail payer.
The city doesn't want money; it wants the court to put an end to Haag's crusade, which started last year when attorneys began sending letters to the landlords of selected California dispensaries. The letters warned of property forfeitures and stiff prison sentences if the dispensaries were not closed.
The complaint was filed this morning in San Francisco.
"The federal government has acted beyond its authority by initiating the forfeiture action outside of the statute of limitations," said Cedric Chao, the attorney representing Oakland in this case. "Moreover, the government has indicated for many years by its words and actions that so long as dispensaries and medical patients acted consistently with state law, the dispensaries would be allowed to operate. Oakland has reasonably relied on these assurances, and the government should be prohibited from disrupting Oakland's medical cannabis program."
As many of you already know, in 1996 California voters passed Proposition 215, better known as the "Compassionate Use Act," which was intended to let seriously ill Californians get marijuana for medical purposes without worrying about jail time or criminal charges. The Compassionate Use Act asked that the federal and state governments come up with a plan that would allow for safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients with medical need for marijuana.
Then in 2003, the California state Legislature passed the "Medical Marijuana Program Act," which provided guidelines for the implementation of the Compassionate Use Act, including a voluntary patient identification card program.
Like San Francisco, Oakland created its own regulatory policy for medical cannabis dispensaries to ensure patients could access marijuana. The city issued permits to the dispensaries and monitors their licenses as well as financial statements.
"This lawsuit is about protecting the rights of legitimate medical patients," City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement released today. "I am deeply dismayed that the federal government would seek to deny these rights and deprive thousands of seriously ill Californians of access to safe, affordable and effective medicine."
Attorneys argue that well-regulated dispensaries, like Harborside, provide "affordable medical cannabis in a controlled, secure setting, which decreases the market for illegal marijuana. "Closing dispensaries will not reduce the demand for medical cannabis, but instead will create a distribution vacuum that will drive suffering medical patients into the arms of street dealers, thereby putting the patients' health and safety at risk."
Besides, there are much bigger problems for the feds to worry about in Oakland -- like the ever-increasing homicide rate.