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California: Justice Department Files Civil Asset Forfeiture Actions Against State's Largest Cannabis Dispensary

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Oakland, CA: Federal prosecutors have targeted Harborside Health Center (HHC) in Oakland, as well as its sister facility in San Jose, for closure and civil asset forfeiture. In court papers filed last week by the US Attorney for the northern district of California, Melinda Haag, the federal government alleges that Harborside is operating in violation of federal law by providing cannabis to state-qualified patients.

In recent months, federal officials have forced the closure of several of the state's most prominent, longstanding, and well-respected medical cannabis operations -- including the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (1996-2011), Berkeley Patients Group (2000-2012), and El Camino Wellness (2008-2012). The closures contradict recent statements made by US Attorney Eric Holder to Congress in June when he asserted that Justice officials are solely targeting individuals who are "taking advantage of those state laws and going beyond what those states have authorized."

Commenting on her actions against Harborside Health Center, US Attorney Melinda Haag said: "I ... find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. 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." However, in contrast to Haag's public statement, the federal complaint cites no alleged violations of state law, instead claiming that HHC's actions violate the federal US Controlled Substances Act.

Speaking at a press conference last week, Harborside's Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said the operation intends to remain open despite federal threats. A recent post on the Harborside website states: "Harborside is not in imminent danger of closing. We intend to keep the commitment we made six years ago to provide our patients with safe access to the medicine their doctors have recommended, for as long as we possibly can."

This week, Congressional House lawmakers reintroduced legislation, H.R. 6134 - The Truth in Trials Act - which would allow federal defendants the opportunity to "introduce evidence (at trial) demonstrating that the marijuana-related activities for which the person stands accused were performed in compliance with state law regarding the medical use of marijuana." Fifteen Democrats and three Republicans are sponsoring the measure.

Commenting on the administration's latest actions, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: "It is ironic that many of California's most prominent and well-respected medical cannabis dispensaries and related facilities - including Oaksterdam University, Berkeley Patients Group, and Harborside Health Center - flourished under the George W. Bush administration. But they'll be lucky to survive President Barack Obama's first term."

Medical cannabis advocates intend to protest the administration's actions on Monday, July 23, during a Presidential fundraiser at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500, or Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director, at: paul@norml.org. For additional information, please visit: http://www.canorml.org.







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