U.S. Justice Dept. to Hear Dismissal Case for Oakland Pot Dispensary

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A federal judge in San Francisco today will consider a U.S. Justice Department bid for dismissal of a lawsuit in which the city of Oakland is seeking to protect a medical marijuana dispensary.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Elena James will hear arguments in her Federal Building courtroom at 10 a.m. on the case concerning the Harborside Health Center, a dispensary believed to have sales of $20 million per year.

Oakland's lawsuit, filed in October, opposes an earlier suit in which the Justice Department is asking for forfeiture of property leased by Harborside.

The forfeiture case is part of a law enforcement effort in which federal prosecutors in California have been attempting to crack down on dispensaries they consider to be large-scale commercial enterprises.

Oakland claims in its suit that the five-year statute of limitations for a forfeiture case has passed because Harborside has operated in compliance with state and city laws since 2006 without federal interference.

But Justice Department attorneys, in their request for dismissal of Oakland's complaint, contend the five-year deadline doesn't apply because Harborside has been continuously selling marijuana in violation of U.S. law.

"The United States has never misrepresented the fact that marijuana distribution, possession, and cultivation remain illegal under federal law," federal attorneys argued in a brief submitted to James.

Although California's voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows seriously ill patients to use cannabis with a doctor's approval, federal laws criminalizing the drug make no exception for state medical marijuana laws.

Oakland's attorneys contend in a response brief that shuttering Harborside and the three other licensed dispensaries in the city would endanger public health and safety and cost the city $1.4 million per year in tax revenue.

"If Oakland's medical cannabis dispensaries are shut down, medical patients, including the elderly and disabled, will have no other choice but to seek medical cannabis from street level drug dealers," the city's lawyers wrote.

If James does not dismiss Oakland's lawsuit, it will be allowed to continue on track for a future trial together with the Justice Department's forfeiture lawsuit.

Attorneys have estimated the trial could take place in about one year.


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