Oakland Comes to Harborside Health’s Defense, Sues Gov’t to Prevent Dispensary’s Eviction

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The City of Oakland is supporting the medical marijuana industry on an unprecedented level, filing a lawsuit to block the government from forcing the eviction of a notable dispensary.

This marks the first time that a city has sued to prevent federal officials from seizing the building and assets of an MMJ operation, according to several experts. If successful, it could set a legal precedent that destroys one of the government’s primary weapons against state-compliant dispensaries and grow sites.

In July, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag took actions to shut down Oakland-based Harborside Health Center, sending a letter to the dispensary’s landlord threatening to seize the property. Harborside, which also has a location in San Jose, is one of the largest, most prominent dispensaries in the nation and was featured on the Discovery Channel reality show “Weed Wars.”

Haag and other U.S. attorneys have used a similar strategy to force hundreds of dispensaries to close across the country, offering varying – and often conflicting – reasons for targeting certain operations. Landlords have little incentive to put up a fight, so in most cases they evict the dispensaries if the owners don’t close on their own.

The justification for going after Harborside is that the dispensary is simply too big (not that it is violating any other state MMJ laws).

The City of Oakland, however, argues that Haag’s office is overzealous in its attempt to crack down on the medical marijuana industry and that its actions are illegal.

“The federal government has acted beyond its authority by initiating the forfeiture action outside of the statute of limitations,” Cedric Chao, a partner with the law firm representing Oakland in the suit, said in a press release. “Moreover, the government has indicated for many years by its words and actions that so long as dispensaries and medical patients acted consistently with state law, the dispensaries would be allowed to operate. Oakland has reasonably relied on these assurances, and the government should be prohibited from disrupting Oakland’s medical cannabis program.”

Harborside is also facing pressure to close its San Jose location, with the landlord of that building asking for help from the federal government to evict the dispensary after receiving a civil forfeiture notice.