SAN FRANCISCO -- Federal prosecutors have filed civil forfeiture actions against an Oakland medical marijuana dispensary that bills itself as the world's largest, as part of a crackdown by U.S. authorities on California's massive cannabis trade.
The lawsuits, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seek forfeiture of two properties where Harborside Health Center operates, said Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California.
The action against Harborside is the latest in a crackdown on what federal prosecutors say is a flourishing network of illegal cannabis suppliers operating across California under the cover of the state's medical marijuana law.
The possession or sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law, which does not have an exemption for medical purposes.
Harborside says it is the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world, serving more than 100,000 patients in a "beautiful waterfront location,"
and is subject of the Discovery Channel reality TV show "Weed Wars."
"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," Haag said in a statement on Wednesday announcing the actions.
The filing of the civil forfeiture complaints against the two Harborside properties is part of our measured effort to address the proliferation of illegal marijuana businesses in the Northern District of California," she said.
Dani Geen holds 'care packages' of medical marijuana at the Harborside Health Center in a 2010 file photo.
Dispensary vows to contest action
In a statement on its website, the clinic said, "Harborside has nothing to be ashamed of, and will contest the Federal actions openly and publicly, with every legal means at our disposal."
"We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side. Come what may, we shall continue to care for our patients unless we are physically prevented from doing so," the statement said.
"People are not going to stop using cannabis, they're just going to buy it in the illegal marketplace … on the streets," Harborsider co-founder and marijuana activist Steve DeAngelo told the Los Angeles Times in an interview.
Why are federal prosecutors using their discretion to do something so profoundly destructive?" he asked, according to the newspaper.
Harborside also announced a news conference for Thursday morning to respond to the "federal attack," saying that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other city, state and union officials would attend.
The federal crackdown has angered medical marijuana activists.
"This is the most obvious and significant step by the federal government in attacking completely law-abiding dispensaries," the Los Angeles Times quoted Kris Hermes, spokesman for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, as saying. "It becomes more untenable for them to say they are just going after certain facilities and not just undermining the state's marijuana laws."
The drive by federal prosecutors to shut down dispensaries has caused friction between the U.S. government and California, which in 1996 became the first state to decriminalize medical marijuana. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.
Harborside serves about 100,000 medical marijuana users a year, sells about $20 million worth of pot and marijuana products, and pays $3 million in federal, state and local taxes annually.
Dispensaries deliver between $58 million to $105 million in annual sales tax to California state coffers, according to state Board of Equalization figures cited in the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service raided Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana trade school in Oakland, and forced its founder to step aside.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris, in a November interview with The New York Times, said the federal campaign had "only increased uncertainty about how Californians can legitimately comply with state law."
Harris also said federal authorities were "ill equipped to be the decision makers as to which providers are violating the law."
Federal prosecutors say the dispensaries operate outside of California law, which permits only primary caregivers to dispense marijuana and bans sale of the drug for profit.
Sources: Reuters, MSNBC, AP
Wow, this video induced a tear-what wonderful humanitarian work (sarcasm)
Harborside’s “Dos Centavos”
WELCOME TO HARBORSIDE :Message to Harborside Patients
On Tuesday, July 10th, DEA agents taped a notice of property forfeiture to the doors of our facilities in Oakland and San Jose. These notices threaten to seize the properties we are located in from our landlords.
Harborside has nothing to be ashamed of, and will contest the Federal actions openly and publicly, with every legal means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side. Come what may, we shall continue to care for our patients unless we are physically prevented from doing so.
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. We will never abandon you.
Our patients can help by providing their e-mail addresses, which will enable HHC to send you updates, and if necessary action alerts. We are also looking for patients who would like to participate in further activist efforts to keep the doors of Harborside open. Please speak to a receptionist or intake staff if you are would like to volunteer.
Steve and Andrew DeAngelo, Dave Wedding Dress, and the management and staff of Harborside Health Center look forward to working with our patients, other dispensaries, activist organizations, and political allies to confront and stop this latest effort by the federal government to frustrate the will of the voters, and deny medicine to those in need. Our fight may be long, but it is just, and in the end we shall be victorious. We look forward to being there with you when that great day comes.
MEDIA ALERT! For Immediate Release: July 11. 2012 11 AM
Thousands of Patients Threatened to Lose Safe Access
U.S. Attorney & DEA Threaten
Harborside Health Center Landlords
Property Forfeiture Filed in District Court of San Francisco
Invitation to Attend Press Conference
Oakland, California - Thursday July 12th at 9 AM - Oakland City Hall
With Appearances and Statements by Patients, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, State Board of Equalization & City Officials, Union Officials, Arturo Sanchez, LEAP Officers, Rebecca Kaplan and Other Statewide Officials.
July 12, 2012 – Oakland, California - The federal attack on safe access for medical cannabis patients continues. Yesterday morning, taped to the front doors of the nation’s model medical cannabis dispensary, Harborside Health Center in Oakland and San Jose, was an official 'Complaint for Forfeiture of Property.' The complaint is signed by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvan Perteet, and DEA Agent David White, filed on July 6, 2012, in the District Court San Francisco Division and received by the court on Sunday, July 9. The complaint seeks forfeiture of real estate and improvements on the grounds that cannabis is being distributed on the premises, in violation of federal law.
This latest federal action to seize property flies in the face of promises made by Haag to exclusively target dispensaries less than 1000 feet from a school, and recent statements from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who stated that only those dispensaries out of compliance with state law would be subject to Federal enforcement actions. Harborside Health Center is neither close to a school, nor out of compliance with state law. The location at 1840 Embarcadero is more than 1000 feet from the closest school, and Harborside is widely recognized as the most legally compliant dispensary in the state, and renowned nationwide.
“Harborside has nothing to hide or be ashamed of," said Steve DeAngelo, Executive Director of Harborside Health Center. "We will contest the DOJ action openly and in public, and through all legal means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side.”
Harborside Health Center employs over 100 people, and is Oakland’s second largest retail tax payer. Last year, HHC paid combined taxes in excess of $3 million, over a million dollars of which went directly to the City of Oakland. Should Harborside be forced to close:
Ø Our 100,000 patients will return to the illegal marketplace
Ø Street drug sales and law enforcement costs will both rise
Ø Over $3,000,000 in tax revenue will be destroyed
Ø Our more than 100 current employees will become jobless
“This is a policy that hurts not only those who depend on cannabis for medicine. It will destroy tax revenue, endanger patients, increase unemployment, and empower criminals. Whoever thinks this is a good idea must be smoking something a lot more powerful than cannabis,” said DeAngelo.