The largest medical marijuana dispensary in the nation has won a legal battle, or at least one round, in federal court on Januray 7th. The federal magistrate judge sided with the plaintiff and against efforts by the landlord to have the businesses in Oakland and San Jose closed immediately.
Since federal prosecutors filed civil forfeiture actions against the landlords last summer the landlords have been under tremendous pressure and fear the government’s seizure of their properties due to the marijuana sales at those properties. However, in her ruling Chief Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James found that, since the landlords had known for years that the properties were being used as medical marijuana dispensaries, that “any arguments about the urgency of stopping Harborside’s activity rings hollow.” She also said that they would face no irreparable harm by allowing their tenants operation to continue as a fuller legal picture of the issues emerges.
The Chief Magistrate also said that the landlords had no legal right to see the immediate removal of the tenants by claiming violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act were occurring there and that only the government had that right.
Since the filing of the forfeiture against Harborside last summer the feds did not seek an immediate stop to sales indicating that, “the Government was not focused on suspending Harborside’s operations during the pendency of the forfeiture actions.” James also wrote, “Harborside will now have the opportunity of fighting the federal civil forfeiture actions in court.” Executive director or Harborside, Steve DeAngelo, said in a statement after the ruling that “We look forward to proving our case in front of a jury, and continue to believe we will prevail.”
The ruling means that, at least for now, the cannabis collective that serves over 100,000 patients can continue to operate. It is also likely to set a precedent in the legal battle against medical marijuana collectives on a national scale as the lines between federal and state marijuana laws continue to blur.
The city of Oakland has sided heavily with Harborside throughout the lawsuit, with many arguing that the immediate closure of the dispensary would harm the local economy. They also say it would simply force patients onto the underground market, from which the city gains no tax revenue and driving up crime.
Judge James did deny a request by Oakland to freeze the forfeiture action while its case against the federal government is heard, instead ordering the cases be coordinated.
The U.S attorney’s office will not comment on ongoing litigation. Prosecutors have filed a motion to have Oakland’s suit thrown out, claiming the city has no legal standing in the issue. That hearing is scheduled for Jan.31.