Oakland, Berkeley fighting feds for medical marijuana


City governments in Oakland and Berkeley are putting their lawyers to work defending medical marijuana dispensaries in those towns.
Earlier this week, the city of Oakland won a court order preventing the federal government from seizing a building occupied by Harborside Health Center, one of the nations largest dispensaries. Meanwhile, their neighbor to the north, Berkeley, has filed a claim against the feds saying seizing and shutting down marijuana businesses in that town will adversely affect the town’s tax coffers.

Oakland officials argued that the dispensary has operated in good standing and that closing them down would mean that more than 100,000 customers would have to go elsewhere – including the streets – for their cannabis. City officials have said that keeping the building open is a public safety issue for the town.
Earlier this week, a judge who previously ruled that the dispensary should shut down agreed that the city had a right to appeal the ruling and that the dispensary and property should not be sized in the interim. The move likely saves the shop from seizure for at least a year, though if the federal government doesn’t appeal the stay then the shop could remain open indefinitely.
The judged ruled that Oakland “has a stake or interest in the action” and that the dispensary was “a matter of significant public interest.”
“If this court’s analysis was incorrect, the court’s dismissal will have foreclosed Oakland from protecting its interests. Thus, at the heart of Oakland’s appeal is its right to access the federal court to assert its claims – a right of paramount importance,” the judge wrote in her ruling.
This is a very significant victory,” Cedric Chao, Oakland’s attorney, said in a prepared statement. “It preserves the right of Oakland and its 400,000 residents to challenge the U.S. Department of Justice’s attempt to shut down the Harborside dispensary.”

City Attorneys in Berkeley are fighting a similar battle to keep Berkeley Patients Group open. BPG is another of the country’s largest dispensaries with thousands of patients. Wednesday the city, along with the Drug Policy Alliance, filed a claim arguing that shutting down the shop would eliminate “substantial revenue” for the city.
“The claimed property is vital to the safe and affordable distribution of medical cannabis to patients suffering from chronic and acute pain, life threatening and severe illnesses, diseases, and injuries within the City of Berkeley, and to the City of Berkeley’s ability to control and regulate medical cannabis within its community,” the city wrote in their claim. “The closure of Berkeley Patients Group will likely lead to an increased number of unregulated, unpermitted dispensaries and an increased number of illicit marijuana sales on Berkeley streets negatively impacting Berkeley neighborhoods and the business community.”
“It is time for the federal government to wake up and stop these asset forfeiture actions,” Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said in a statement. “Berkeley Patients Group has complied with the rules and caused no problems in the city. The federal government should not use its scarce resources to harass local law-abiding businesses.”