Stay Lifted in Medical Pot Club Seizure Case

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The federal government can move forward with seizure proceedings against a medical-marijuana dispensary that lost its appellate bid.
     Uncle Sam filed a federal forfeiture complaint more than a year ago against the property at 2441 Mission St. That action accused the tenant, Shambhala Healing Center, of selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of a public playground, in violation of the Controlled Substances Act.
     Shambhala’s landlords, Ebrahim and Valentin Poura, agreed last month to pay $150,000 or forfeit their interest in the property early this year, admitting that the “property is being used to facilitate the distribution of marijuana” and is therefore subject to forfeiture.
     That admission did not sit well, however, with Shambhala.
     Henry Wykowski, the center’s attorney, argued that the supposed “findings” are “highly contested by claimant Shambhala,” who was not a party to the settlement and should not be “bound by the alleged findings.”
     The lawyer asked the court to delete the contested paragraph at the time and issue an amended order. U.S. District Judge Susan Illston issued an amended order on April 16, but the contested paragraph remained.
     Illston had previously stayed the action against Shambahala while it sought a protective order.
     Kader Al Shawa, the center’s owner, wanted immunity because a deposition the government intended to notice in the forfeiture case would likely implicate his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. His motion asked that any discovery relating to Shambhala’s two owners be used only for the purpose of conducting the forfeiture litigation and not in connection with any criminal prosecution.
     The 9th Circuit refused to let Shambhala appeal without explanation Thursday, and Assistant U.S Attorney Arvon informed Judge Illston the next day.
     In light of that denial, Illston lifted the April 4 stay on Monday.
     Wykowski did not respond before deadline to a request for comment.
     Prosecutors said last year that Al Shawa and the other Shambhala owner, Kristine Keifer, had agreed to shut down the club in May 2012 but kept the club open with the knowledge of the Pouras.
     Though the U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed the property is located “within 1,000 feet of both Jose Coronado Playground and Alioto Mini Park,” city records show the playground is closed and is not being operated or occupied by the city’s Recreation and Park Department.
     Voters in Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use, and it is legal in California and other states with a doctor’s prescription, but it is illegal under federal law and is still considered a Schedule 1 Drug, which means it has no accepted medical use.

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