Prominent California dispensary Harborside Health Center has scored an important victory not only for its business but also for the MMJ industry as a whole.
A judge ruled that Anne Chretien – the landlord of Harborside’s Oakland operation – cannot evict the dispensary despite receiving a civil forfeiture notice from the federal government.
Judge Evelio Grillo said that the courts don’t have the authority to evict state-compliant businesses on the grounds that they are breaking federal laws.
‘This court sees no reason why a private actor should be able to do what a city cannot—i.e., rely on the idea that state law incorporates federal criminal law to compel a state court to enforce that federal law indirectly when it cannot do so directly,” Grillo wrote in the decision.
To be clear, this isn’t the end of the issue by any means. A federal judge must still weigh in on the federal government’s attempts to seize the property and boot Harborside from the premises, and a decision could come as early as Dec. 20.
But the ruling against Harborside’s landlord is a big win for several reasons:
– It buys the dispensary some time and allows Harborside to continue operating in its current building as the federal government case plays out.
– It sets a legal precedent that other dispensaries can use if their landlords try to evict them because of civil forfeiture threats from the feds. That means more dispensaries are likely to fight these evictions going forward.
– It represents a potentially significant setback for the federal government in its efforts to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries, particularly in California. Civil forfeiture threats have become a key weapon in the government’s arsenal against MMJ, leading to the closure of hundreds of dispensaries. Now, that weapon could become much less powerful.
“Harborside was not the first (California) dispensary targeted for property seizure by US Attorneys, but it may well be the last,” Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said in a release. “Judge Grillo’s thoughtful opinion will provide strong protection for all medical cannabis leaseholders in California, and may put a spike in (US Attorney Melinda Haag’s) months-long campaign of using civil forfeiture to close state legal medical cannabis dispensaries. The decision makes it clear that organizations that comply with state law deserve the protection of that law, and makes it far more difficult for US Attorneys to force the eviction of medical cannabis dispensaries.”
Although serious threats to the industry remain, the judge’s ruling is a very positive sign for dispensary operators in California and other states.