Embattled Berkeley dispensary vows to fight federal lawsuit


Berkeley Patients Group, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in Berkeley, California, was sued by the federal government on Friday in an attempt to shut down the cornerstone collective and seize the property, according to a press release delivered today by Americans for Safe Access.
The feds accuse Berkeley Patients Group of breaking federal law by selling herb. And in a move that has been used with undeniable effect up and down the state of California, they’ve targeted BPG’s landlord and threatened her with asset and property seizure if she does not immediately evict her tenants.

The forfeiture complaint handed out on Friday is the same tactic that the federal government filed against Harborside Health Center in Oakland last July, and has been used to threaten landlords up and down the state, effectively shutting down thousands of dispensaries in cities like San Diego and San Jose.
In local politics, Berkeley City Council members Darryl Moore and Laurie Capitelli filed a resolution on Monday in an attempt to essentially make the feds cease and desist with their forfeiture actions against Berkeley Patients Group. As written, the resolution praises the work that BPG has done in the community since their founding in 1999, referring to them as a “national model of the not-for-profit, services-based medical cannabis dispensary”.
The text goes on to commend BPG for their contributions to the community through providing jobs, paying millions of dollars in state and local taxes, as well as improving the lives and assisting the end-of-life transitions of thousands of patients.
The City of Berkeley even declared October 31st, 2009 as Berkeley Patients Group Day, to honor the dispensary’s tenth anniversary of providing safe access and friendly service to the city’s medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

Berkeley Patients Group.

Last Friday, however, was not their day. Despite the overwhelming support that Berkeley Patients Group has earned from local patients and politicians alike, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag dished out the lawsuit on behalf of an Obama Department of Justice that has repeatedly stated that it would not be targeting anyone who was in compliance with state medical marijuana laws.
Steph Sherer, Executive Director for Americans for Safe Access, sees this latest act as proof that the war on drugs is alive and well under President Obama, saying, “This lawsuit is not about profiteering or violating state law; it’s a mean, vindictive move aimed at shutting down one of the oldest and well-respected dispensaries in the country.”
Berkeley Patients Group and their ex-landlord were served a similar complaint in November of 2011, and although they felt they were well within all state laws and regulations, BPG moved their operation to ensure that they were at least 1000 feet from all schools. Though a step down in size, they found continued success at their new address, turning what was an abandoned eyesore into a secure, thriving local business. In fact, the current complaint mentions no new encroachments, or any specific infractions or abuse of the law – other than the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
The first time the feds came knocking, they moved. This time, Berkeley Patients Group doesn’t plan to go anywhere and plan to fight back. Sean Luse, Chief Operations Officer for BPG, looks forward to having their day in court, stating, “Berkeley Patients Group intends to vigorously defend the rights of its patients to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, city-licensed dispensary.”
Representatives of Berkeley Patients Group, along with at least four Berkeley Councilmembers held a press conference to voice their opposition to the lawsuit. The City Council will hear Moore and Capitelli’s full resolution on May 21st, and if adopted, it will be sent to U.S Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as President Obama.
The president has gone on record for years stating that the Justice Department would not circumvent state laws with regard to medical marijuana, nor would they prioritize the prosecution of those who are operating within those state laws. Berkeley Patients Group may not be the first squeaky clean medical marijuana dispensary to face the wrath of this hypocrisy, but their high profile in the media and powerful political allies may turn this case into a fight that the feds wish they wouldn’t have picked.