A battle between the federal government and the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary will intensify next week, and the outcome could have a significant impact on the cannabis industry going forward.
On Thursday, a federal judge will hear arguments tied to the potential eviction of Harborside Health Center from its San Jose building.
Harborside Executive Director Steve DeAngelo didn’t mince words when talking about the case, telling MMJ Business Daily: “Nov. 1 is a very critical date for our future. As always, we’re standing here on the precipice between opportunity and disaster.”
He also believes the case (and a similar one involving Harborside’s Oakland property) will have huge implications for the industry. “From my point of view, if the government is successful in closing down Harborside, it’ll either be a bloodbath or it will be the last major case they take on,” DeAngelo said.
In other words, this could set a legal precedent that would allow the feds to easily shut down all dispensaries in California and even across the nation. Alternatively, the government might use Harborside to send a message to the industry and spook other dispensaries into closing or scaling back their operations.
Last summer, US Attorney Melinda Haag began civil forfeiture proceedings against Harborside, aiming to shut down the dispensary by pressuring its landlords in Oakland and San Jose. To avoid civil forfeiture, the owner of Harborside’s San Jose building moved to evict the dispensary.
If the judge allows the eviction, Harborside’s landlord in Oakland will likely look to boot the dispensary as well.
But this case could wind up benefiting the industry and Harborside in a big way. If the judge halts the eviction and sends the case to a full trial, Harborside will have a fighting chance to secure its long-term future. At that point, the dispensary and its supporters – which include the City of Oakland – will argue that closing the operation would cause “excessive harm” to patients. If Harborside comes out on top in that trial, the feds would have a much harder time using civil forfeiture laws to shutter dispensaries in the future.
Henry Wykowski, a lawyer representing Harborside, called this a watershed case.
“The industry is lucky that Steve DeAngelo and Harborside are willing to take on this fight,” as every other dispensary faced with the same threats succumbed to the pressure, Wykowski said.
Both DeAngelo and Wykowski are optimistic that the San Jose case will move to a full trial in front of a jury. To prepare for the worst, however, Harborside launched a delivery service a few weeks ago, which will keep the entity alive if it’s forced to close its storefront locations.
Still, there isn’t much more Harborside can do if it loses in the courts.
“There aren’t a lot of Plan B’s,” DeAngelo said. “If Harborside gets closed and every other dispensary gets closed as well, we’re left with a premier delivery service, and from a financial standpoint we’d be OK. If Harborside is the last solider shot in this war, though, hopefully we can do something else and rebuild.”
DeAngelo and Wykowski will speak more about this issue and the federal crackdown at the National Marijuana Business Conference in Denver just after the elections.