In a major victory for the pot industry, the federal government dropped its four-year bid to shut down Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the biggest medical marijuana dispensary in the country with more than 100,000 patients, according to city officials.
Federal officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Harborside, on the Oakland Estuary, has faced potential closure since 2012, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office cracked down on the industry across California and attempted to seize the buildings that housed the businesses. Federal officials called centers like Harborside “marijuana superstores.”
While Harborside stood its ground against the federal civil case, dozens if not hundreds of other dispensaries across California, facing similar federal threats, shut down operations.
In Marin County, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag threatened to seize the property of the Marin Alliance dispensary in 2011 and prosecute the landlord for drug dealing and providing medical marijuana within 1,000 feet of a Little League field, a crime punishable by up to 40 years in prison. The dispensary closed.
“As of today, Harborside Health Center is in the clear and will no longer have to worry about a looming raid,” said Oakland councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan. “Supporters are pleased to hear that the case has been dropped so that patients suffering from chronic pain can have peace of mind that they will be able to get their medicine through safe dispensaries, such as Harborside Health Center.”
Steve DeAngelo, executive director of the center, said he believes the dismissal “signals the beginning of the end of federal prohibition.”
Oakland backed Harborside during the legal battle, suing the federal government to stop the property seizure. The city argued it would lose millions of dollars in taxes, and that the close of Harborside would increase crime by forcing many of the dispensaries patients to turn to street dealers. While the U.S Supreme Court ruled in March that the city could not intervene, Harborside has been able to remain open during appeals.
Harborside has claimed the forfeiture suit violates several federal laws and the Obama administration’s stated policy of deferring to laws in nearly half the states, including California, that have legalized marijuana for medical use.
News of the dismissal came as the Oakland City Council was set to consider broad new laws regulating and taxing its multimillion-dollar medical marijuana industry at its Tuesday evening meeting. The expected vote follows a months-long process to both rein in and exploit a growing sector of the economy.
While Oakland was the first city in California to regulate a handful of dispensaries, just eight now operate as sanctioned businesses, subject to sales tax, public health and safety regulations, environmental and employment rules, and other city laws. Gov. Jerry Brown, though, signed a set of bills in October creating a regulatory structure for medical pot, one that allows cities to set policies related to all aspects of the industry.