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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Congress Members Say Feds' Marijuana Crackdown Is Illegal

Posted By on Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 10:12 AM

click to enlarge U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (left) is on board with dispensary operator Steve DeAngelo (right). - HARBORSIDE HEALTH CENTER
  • Harborside Health Center
  • U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (left) is on board with dispensary operator Steve DeAngelo (right).
The federal Justice Department is waging a losing battle against a pair of Bay Area medical cannabis dispensaries.

Both Berkeley Patients Group and Oakland's Harborside Health Center remain open for business several years after the feds filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against the marijuana stores' landlords — and it appears they will remain open for at least several more years as a complicated set of lawsuits wind through the courts.

Not only is the effort to shut down the pot stores not working, it's also entirely illegal, according to several California members of Congress.

U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) were two of the hundreds of members of the House of Representatives who voted to pass the Cromnibus spending bill in December. Included in the bill was an amendment that barred the Justice Department from using funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana.

And that's exactly what the Justice Department continues to do, Lee and Rohrabacher wrote in a letter published over the weekend.

So what gives, Uncle Sam?

The BPG and Harborside cases are currently the only federal asset forfeiture proceedings against legal medical weed facilities in the entire United States, according to attorney Henry Wykowski, who is representing both dispensaries.

There was a third suit filed against San Francisco dispensary Shambhala Healing Center.The feds moved to settle that case in the fall, and in return for a $150,000 check from the pot club's landlord, Shambhala kept its doors open and remains open for business.

Lee, Rohrabacher, and U.S. Rep. Sam Farr all posit that the Justice Department is not only violating the Cromnibus spending bill, but its own policies laid out in the most-recent marijuana-related memo from Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

"We believe DOJ has overstepped its bounds," they wrote in a letter dated Feb. 13, adding that the Justice Department is not "acting within the spirit or the letter of the law."

Rohrabacher, a Republican who was elected largely due to his relationship with former President Ronald Reagan, for whom he served as a speechwriter, attended the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco this past weekend. There, he told the crowd that had he had been unlucky enough to be arrested for the marijuana use he indulged in as a Southern California surf bum, he'd never have been elected to Congress.

It appears that federal judges are also questioning the wisdom of continuing the weed war past the point of common sense and public approval. 

"The United States Government, the President and the Attorney General, and the Justice Department is largely looking the other way in terms of medical marijuana facilities," said federal judge Stephen Murphy during the most-recent Harborside hearing. "What's the end game here?"

That's an excellent question, and one the Justice Department has yet to answer.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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