Federal Government V. California: Marijuana Dispensary Closing Postponed

Rabin Nabizadeh
July 3, 2013

Since the passage of California State Senate Bill 420 (S420) and Proposition 215, citizens of the state of California have been able to control and alleviate the symptoms of many debilitating diseases, such as cancer, depression, anxiety, HIV/AIDS, certain neuromuscular diseases, and a myriad of other health problems using marijuana as medicine.  However, this has not prevented the Federal Government from continually harassing medical marijuana dispensaries and cooperatives around the state, considering that possession of any amount of marijuana is still a felony according to federal law. 

Recently, this fight has yet again been brought to the forefront – pitting U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag against U.S. Magistrate Maria-Elena James and the city of Oakland.  The debate centers around a federal forfeiture suit against Harborside Health Center, one of the largest legal medical marijuana dispensaries in the country.  Haag’s suit seeks not only to close down the dispensary, but also to seize all of its assets and products.  Magistrate James has determined, however, that the people who actually live in Oakland have the right to bring their arguments to court on behalf of the dispensary before any decision can be made, effectively keeping Harborside open for at least another year.

Haag’s case, some have argued, is simply part and parcel of a push by the Obama administration to get rid of such dispensaries in the state of California for violations of federal drug laws.  The problem is that residents of Oakland (and the owners of the dispensary) believe that the Federal Government should not be allowed to “change horses in the middle of a race;” the dispensary has been allowed to operate without incident and without problems from the Feds for over 6 years and it is difficult to understand why they are cracking down on such operations now.  Additionally, representatives of the city of Oakland have argued that shutting Harborside down would result, not only in a loss of over $1 million in tax revenue, but would also increase the illegal drug trade in the area – one in which the illegal drug trade is already an issue.  Is the Federal Government really concerned with the safety of Californians or is this action simply political?  People living in Oakland would certainly argue that it is the former.

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