Oakland, CA: The City of Oakland took legal action last week to halt efforts by the US government to seize the assets associated with Harborside Health Center, the state’s largest medical cannabis dispensary. In July, the US Attorney for the northern district of California, Melinda Haag, filed court papers seeking to close the dispensary and seize the property – alleging that Harborside is operating in violation of federal law by providing cannabis to state-qualified patients.
On Wednesday, October 10, the City of Oakland filed a complaint in United States District Court seeking to prevent the federal government from seizing the Harborside property. Harborside is licensed to operate by the City of Oakland.
The City’s complaint argues that federal officials had long been aware of Harborside’s activities, and that the Department of Justice had a legal obligation to file actions seeking civil forfeiture in a more expeditious manner.
"The federal government has acted beyond its authority by initiating the forfeiture action outside of the statute of limitations," said Cedric Chao, a partner with the San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster, which is representing the City 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."
The City’s complaint cites a 1998 federal appeals court decision determining that the government could not seize over $500,000 in US currency because federal agents had known about the lawbreaking more than five years earlier and had failed to take action at that time. "Under the statute of limitations, said the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, the government had five years to seek forfeiture from the time it knew, or should have known, that the crime was being committed – a deadline it missed by six months," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Added Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker in a press release: "This lawsuit is about protecting the rights of legitimate medical patients. 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."
In the past year, US Attorneys in California have sent more than 300 threatening letters to landlords across the state, resulting in the closure of more than 400 dispensaries, according to tabulations compiled by the group Americans for Safe Access.
In August, United States Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with eight co-sponsors, introduced legislation – House Bill 6335, the Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act – to amend the federal Controlled Substances Act so as to "exempt real property from civil forfeiture due to medical-marijuana-related conduct that is authorized by State law." The measure is now before the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, but is unlikely to be heard by lawmakers prior to the November election.
For more information, please visit the webpage of the City of Oakland, Office of the City Attorney, here: http://www.oaklandcityattorney.org/.