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Feds Drop Harborside Health Center Case !

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Feds Drop Case Against Influential Medical Marijuana Dispensary Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, has been fighting to stay open for four years.
05/03/2016 03:26 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2016
John Patriquin/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Harborside Health Center, considered the nation’s largest medical pot dispensary, has won its battle with the federal government.

The Justice Department has dropped its case against an Oakland medical marijuana collective, ending a four-year battle over what is considered the largest medical pot dispensary in the nation.

Harborside Health Center, which first opened in 2006, has been embroiled in litigation since 2012, when then-U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag began cracking down on medical pot shops in California. (Haag stepped down from her post last year.) On Tuesday, Harborside announced the Justice Department was dropping its case against the dispensary.

“When US Attorney Melinda Haag first filed suit to seize the property Harborside is located in, I vowed we would never abandon our patients ... and predicted Harborside would outlast the efforts to close us down,” Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said in a statement. “Today, thanks to the deep support of our community and our elected officials, and the skill and determination of our legal counsel, that prediction has come true.”

“It’s a great day for Oakland and for all of California,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said. “The federal government isn’t going to waste tax dollars trying to frustrate the desires of Californians to have safe access to medical cannabis.”

Schaaf also noted that coincidentally, news of the dismissal came the same day Oakland is expected to adopt new regulations bringing the entire supply chain of the city’s medical marijuana industry “out from the shadows.”

While the use, possession and sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law, medical cannabis was legalized in California in 1996. Since then, medical dispensaries have thrived in the state. In 2014, state-registered dispensaries reported $570 million in income, bringing in $49.5 million in taxes. 

It was this success that prompted Haag to go after Harborside, which brings in approximately $25 million annually in revenue from medical pot sales and serves more than 200,000 members. In July 2012, Haag’s office filed a civil forfeiture action against the collective, claiming the dispensary had violated federal drug laws.

“The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need,” Haag wrote

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Harborside provides medical cannabis to over 1,000 patients a day, says Executive Director Steve DeAngelo.

The action against Harborside was part of the Obama administration’s wider crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries across the state. In 2011 and 2012, more than 500 dispensaries across California shuttered due to threats of federal prosecution despite their compliance with state law. 

In October 2012, the city of Oakland sued the federal government to block the DOJ from seizing the property where Harborside operates, arguing that closing the dispensary would harm its patients and force sick people to seek marijuana via illegal means.  

Over the next few years, the legal tug-of-war continued. Harborside won a series of victories in late 2012 and early 2013 allowing the dispensary to avoid eviction and continue its operations. But in February 2013, a federal magistrate judge dismissed Oakland’s lawsuit. The city then appealed, and in July 2013 a judge ruled the dispensary could stay open while litigation continued. The case eventually went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, where the city was dealt a major legal setback in August. 

Meanwhile, there were several developments at the federal level that worked in Harborside’s favor. In 2014, Congress approved an amendment introduced by California Reps. Sam Farr (D) and Dana Rohrabacher ® that blocks the DOJ from using federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs. Congress reauthorized that amendment in 2015. And in October, a federal judge ruled that the Justice Department can’t prosecute legally operating providers of medical marijuana. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately return a request for comment on why the case was dropped, but DeAngelo speculated the renewal of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment and the dismissal of a similar case against a Marin dispensary were both factors. 

“I hope that what we’re seeing is the beginning of the dismantling of federal prohibition,” he told HuffPost. 

The dismissal drew praise from Oakland-area politicians who have long stood by the collective. 

“Today’s decision by the U.S. attorney is a victory for health care access,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who represents Oakland and pressed for the DOJ to drop the case against Harborside. “For decades, Harborside has helped ensure members of our community can access their medicine. It’s past time for the federal government to stop standing between these patients and their medicine.”

“Harborside Health Center has been a strong positive presence in Oakland, both for the patients they serve, the workers they employ, and for the vital public services that are supported by their tax revenues,” said Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan. “I am glad that Oakland’s work on the Federal case helped keep Harborside open during this dispute, and heartened to know that the threat against them is now removed.”

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Here's another bit where the haag's rep says no such announcement was made, but...?





OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Oakland city officials said Tuesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has dropped its case against a medical cannabis dispensary in their city after a legal battle that last lasted nearly four years.


Former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag targeted Harborside Health Center at 1840 Embarcadero in a July 2012 federal lawsuit, seeking forfeiture of the landlords’ property on the ground that the building is used for illegal activities.


Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, City Attorney Barbara Parker, Rep. Barbara Lee and attorneys for Harborside all said Tuesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has dropped its suit.


U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Abraham Simmons said he can’t comment on the case because “it’s still pending litigation” and said his office has made “no such announcement” about dropping its suit.


Speaking at a news conference on the steps of City Hall, Henry Wykowski, an attorney for Harborside, said that when the dispensary was sued in 2012, “We took a stand that we would take this all the way and we have and we have prevailed.”


Kaplan said, “We have a great victory to celebrate and now folks don’t have to worry about a federal raid” on medical cannabis dispensaries.


Schaaf said, “The city of Oakland is celebrating today because we believe in compassionate care and public health and the wise expenditure of public funds,” saying that she thinks the federal lawsuit wasn’t a wise use of taxpayer dollars


Kaplan said Harborside Health Center is now in the clear and will no longer have to worry about a looming raid and patients suffering from chronic pain can have peace of mind that they will be able to get their medicine through safe dispensaries such as Harborside.


In a statement read aloud at the news conference by one of her assistants, Lee said, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Attorney is a victory for health care access. For decades, Harborside has helped ensure members of our community can access their medicine. It’s past time for the federal government to stop standing between these patients and their medicine.”


In a statement read aloud by her spokesman, Parker said, “I’m delighted that the federal government has dropped its forfeiture action.”


Parker said the decision to drop the case is “an excellent and just outcome.”

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