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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Feds Move to Close Harborside Health Center, California's Biggest Marijuana Dispensary

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM

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The federal Justice Department's crackdown on California's medical marijuana industry escalated Monday when the government moved to shut down the state's largest cannabis dispensary.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed paperwork July 6 to seize the Oakland and San Jose locations of Harborside Health Center -- which, with 110,000 patients, is the biggest pot club in  California and the world, her office said Tuesday.

The move against the state's biggest marijuana sellers follows the April 2 raid of Oaksterdam University, which put Richard Lee, the man who bankrolled 2010's marijuana legalization ballot measure, out of business. 

The move could also spell fiscal trouble for Oakland; Harborside is the city's second-largest retail taxpayer.

A press conference, wherein city and dispensary officials will speak out against the feds, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday in front of Oakland City Hall.

The Obama Administration's crackdown on medical marijuana in California began last fall, when the state's four United States attorneys began sending letters to the landlords of selected California dispensaries. The letters warned of property forfeitures and stiff prison sentences if the dispensaries were not closed.

Letters from Haag have to date shut down six of San Francisco's permitted medical marijuana dispensaries. Haag also shut down dispensaries in Berkeley and in Marin County.

Haag has in rare instances followed up her letters with a civil asset forfeiture suit. A suit forced Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana to shut its doors. Haag filed such a suit against Harborside's locations in Oakland and San Jose on Monday, she said.

The moves to shut down the state's legal medical marijuana industry seem to contradict public statements made on the campaign trail and in office by President Barack Obama as well as Attorney General Eric Holder. As recently as this year, Holder said that only dispensaries that violate state law will be targeted for enforcement by the federal government.

The Oakland location had been in business since 2006 without generating any complaints, Americans for Safe Access said. The San Jose location opened in 2010.

Haag explained her move in a rare public statement issued on Tuesday. While she has in the past focused on closing dispensaries located too close to schools, she is now moving to shut down the largest dispensaries, including "superstores like Harborside," she said.

"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," Haag said in a statement.

Haag did not specify exactly which laws Harborside is said to have broken.

Stephen DeAngelo, Harborside's CEO, said on Tuesday that the dispensary "has nothing to hide" and will fight the forfeiture proceeding in court.

Harborside employs more than 100 people and pays some $3 million in state and local taxes, DeAngelo said. More than $1 million goes to Oakland alone.

"We will contest the DOJ action openly and in public, and through all legal means at our disposal," DeAngelo said in a statement. "We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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