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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Oakland Insists It Can Defend Medical Pot Club

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The city of Oakland renewed demands to stay forfeiture proceedings against a local medical marijuana dispensary whose business it defends as a matter of state's rights.

Though the U.S. government says that Oakland lacks standing to try to block it from seizing Harborside Health Center, the city argued that it has an interest in protecting its economic and public health interests, and it says a stay would serve the orderly adjudication of justice.

The U.S. government initiated forfeiture proceedings against Harborside Health Center's Oakland and San Jose locations in July, claiming the clubs sell marijuana in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). While medical marijuana is legal in California, and voters approved ordinances allowing the recreational use of marijuana by adults in Washington and Colorado, it is still illegal under federal law.

The landlords of the two locations asked the court for an order prohibiting the continued sale of marijuana at the locations, and the government supported those requests.

After the dispensaries' owner, Steve DeAngelo, opposed, the city of Oakland sued the government for abandoning its alleged promises not to interfere with a state's plan to regulate medical marijuana shops.

It said last week that the government "misunderstands the law" in trying to dismiss this case by attacking the city's standing to contest the proceedings against dispensaries.

Oakland notes that it not file a claim in the government's forfeiture action against Harborside.

"Oakland is not a claimant to the real property, so it need not file a claim in the forfeiture proceedings," the brief states. "Rather, Oakland has standing to protects its economic and regulatory/public health and safety interests by bringing its own independent claims under the Administrative Procedure Act."

The city has standing to "vindicate ... proprietary interests as might be congruent with the interests of their inhabitants," including "sales tax revenues, and 'the possibility of actual injury to its ability to function as a municipality in regulating persons and property within its jurisdiction control,'" the brief states.

Oakland has claimed it will lose tax revenue from dispensary permits and sales.

It says it also has interest as an aggrieved or affected person and argues the "federal government exceeded its authority by illegally enforcing the CSA through the forfeiture proceedings, thereby jeopardizing the public welfare of Oakland and its residents. Illegal enforcement of the CSA will also cause economic harm from lost tax revenue, and increased costs of police enforcement, in addition to untold costs associated with channeling thousands of patients into an unregulated black market."

Oakland also took exception to "the government's attempt to prevent a logical resolution of issues," which it asked the court to reject.

"The government's unstated goal in opposing this stay motion is to avoid judicial scrutiny of the legality of its forfeiture action," the brief states.

"That, however, is not how our system of government is supposed to work - the executive branch is not above the law," the brief states later. "Staying the landlords' motions until Oakland's claims have been adjudicated, on the other hand, will prevent the government from avoiding judicial scrutiny."

The court has power to stay the landlords' motions at its own discretion or based on Oakland's motion, according to the brief.

"District courts do hear motions in one case to stay proceedings in another related case, as is requested hear," Oakland said. In this case, it "will ensure an orderly disposition of matters," it added.

Since Harborside has joined Oakland in this motion, it also renders the matter of standing moot.

Oakland further contended that a stay would serve public interest, with minimal harm to the government.

"Shuttering Harborside will injure patients by denying them the medical benefits of cannabis, a factor that favors a stay," it said.

"Despite the government's refrain that cannabis has no medical benefit, the government's own patents and scientific research reveal that the government believes in the medical efficacy of cannabis," it added. "The government has sought exclusive ownership rights to cannabis compounds and their use by applying for and securing U.S. and international patents."

Both of the landlords that rent space to Harborside have moved to prevent the businesses from distributing cannabis, but Oakland says the court should stay both.

In addition to asking the court to dismiss Oakland's suit, the government requested a stay of its discovery obligations.

Oakland slammed this in a separate brief as a "transparent tactic to delay this action in order to achieve a shuttering of the Harborside Health Services through the related Harborside Action before Oakland's claims in Oakland v. Holder can be adjudicated."

Harborside is represented by Cedric Chao of Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, while Oakland is represented by Barbara Parker of the City Attorney's Office.

Lead attorney for the federal government is Kathryn Wyer with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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