DOJ Drops Prosecution of Biggest Medical Marijuana Dispensary in US

by JULIE FIDLER –

Providing medical marijuana to more than 100,000 people

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) dropped a 4-year-long effort to shut down Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, the largest marijuana dispensary in the US.

Employee Derek Flores, right, waits for a patient at a display case at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif. The center will be one of the models for Maine's first medical marijuana dispensaries. Credit: John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Employee Derek Flores, right, waits for a patient at a display case at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, Calif. The center will be one of the models for Maine’s first medical marijuana dispensaries. Credit: John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Providing medical marijuana to more than 100,000 patients, Harborside opened in 2006, and the Justice Department first tried to shutter its doors and seize the buildings that house the business in 2012. The city of Oakland sided with Harborside and sued, arguing that closing the dispensary would harm those who rely on its services and force sick people to seek marijuana illegally on the streets.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, but medical cannabis was legalized in California in 1996. In July of 2012, the office of then-US attorney Melissa Haag filed a civil forfeiture action against Harborside, claiming the business had violated federal drug laws.

Haag wrote at the time:

“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.” [1]

The civil forfeiture was part of the Obama administration’s overall crackdown on marijuana dispensaries across California. Threats of federal prosecution lead to the closure of more than 500 dispensaries across the state in 2011 and 2012.

A number of events at the federal level helped keep Harborside’s doors open, including Congress’ 2014 approval of an amendment introduced by California Reps. Sam Farr (D) and Dana Rohrabacher (R) that blocks the Justice Department from using federal funds to go after state-legal medical marijuana programs. That amendment was reauthorized by Congress last year.

Furthermore, this past October, a federal judge ruled that the DOJ can’t prosecute legally operating providers of medical marijuana.

Read: Bill Provision PROTECTS State Medical Marijuana Laws And Cannabis Research

The dismissal of the case is a victory for patients, proponents, and the marijuana industry.

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said:

“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. 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.”

Kaplan noted that Harborside and other dispensaries generate $3 million in revenue for Oakland each year. She added that Oakland was the first city in the state to create a permit program for dispensaries, which required they provide security.

Oakland, 24.09.2010: Steve DeAngelo, Executive Director of Harborside Health Center, Oakland's largest medical marijuana dispensary, poses in front of the center's checkout counter.

Oakland, 24.09.2010: Steve DeAngelo, Executive Director of Harborside Health Center, Oakland’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, poses in front of the center’s checkout counter.

The DOJ did not immediately comment on the deal, but Oakland officials rejoiced at the news during a press conference at City Hall. Said Mayor Libby Schaaf:

“We celebrate the release from federal prosecution. We believe in compassion, we believe in health.” [2]

Henry G. Wykowski, who represented Harborside Health Center, said his client had signed a stipulation for dismissal. He expects the case will be over within a week to 10 days. [3]

Sources:

[1] The Huffington Post

[2] Business Insider

[3] Los Angeles Times

 

Reprinted with permission from Natural Society