Feds Sue Pot Shop Featured on 'Weed Wars"

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The federal government began civil forfeiture proceedings against a medical marijuana dispensary recently featured on a television show.
     The United States Attorneys office accused Harborside Health Center in San Jose and Oakland of running establishments that sell marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act. While medical marijuana is legal in California it is still illegal under federal law.
     Harborside Health Center became famous nationwide when it was featured on the Discovery Channel show "Weed Wars." According to the lawsuits, it claims to be the largest retailer of marijuana on the planet, serving more than 100,000 customers.
     The recent crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California had focused on dispensaries that were allegedly close to schools, parks and playgrounds.
     In a press release U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag justified the new approach by explaining, "I now find the need to consider actions regarding marijuana superstores such as Harborside. The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need."
     In the two complaints filed against the separate locations Haag does not accuse the properties of selling marijuana to customers who are not medical marijuana patients or allowing non-patients to obtain marijuana.
     Rather the complaint states: "Title 21, United States Code, Section 856 makes it unlawful to rent, lease, profit from or make available for use, with or without compensation, a place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing, or using a controlled substance, to wit: marijuana. Title 21, United States Code, Section 881(a)(7) provides for the forfeiture of all real property, including any right, title, and interest, including but not limited to any ownership, lien holder, or leasehold interest, which is used or intended to be used, in any manner or part to commit, or facilitate the commission of any violation of Title 21, United States Code, Chapter 13, Subchapter 1, to include sections 841 and 856. In light of the foregoing, plaintiff alleges that the defendant real property is subject to forfeiture, pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 881(a)(7), as property which was used or intended to be used, to commit or facilitate the commission of the distribution, cultivation and possession with the intent to distribute and cultivate marijuana."
     Jack Gillund, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of California, informed Courthouse News that "other than the statement we issued yesterday, we have no comment." Courthouse News had asked Gillund if the office wanted to comment on whether it had proof Harborside allowed medical marijuana to get into the hands of non-patients.
     In a prepared statement listed on the website for Americans for Safe Access, Harborside Executive Director Steve Angelo stated that "Harborside has nothing to be ashamed of. We will contest the DOJ action openly and in public, and through all legal means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side."
     Harborside maintains that it has complied with all local and state laws and that it was not within 1,000 feet of a school, another rationale the Justice Department is using to target dispensaries even though state law is set at 600 feet, according to the ASA website.
     More than 400 dispensaries have shuttered in California since the U.S. Attorneys announced a crackdown against medical marijuana dispensaries in October 2011, "mostly from the specter of federal criminal prosecution or asset forfeiture," according to the site.
     "The claim by the Obama Administration that it's not undermining the laws of medical marijuana states like California is becoming less and less tenable," said Don Duncan, California Director of ASA.
     "The Attorney General and the president must be held accountable for actions by their U.S. Attorneys that are harming untold numbers of patients," he continued. ASA calls itself the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group.
     Harborside's founder, Steve DeAngelo, told the Los Angeles Times that he was the subject of a justice department witch hunt.
     "People are not going to stop using cannabis, they're just going to buy it in the illegal marketplace... on the streets... If Harborside is not in compliance with state law, no one is," he said.
     A statement on Harborside's website said the clinic "has nothing to be ashamed of" and vowed to fight the potential eviction "with every legal means at our disposal."While the federal government has not yet seized the properties it will post a notice of the action, serve the owners with the lawsuit and record a lis pendens with the respective counties, according to the forfeiture actions.
     The lawsuits were filed against Real Property and Improvements Located at 2106 Ringwood Avenue, San Jose, California and Real Property and Improvements Located at 1840 Embarcadero, Oakland, California.