After four years of fighting back and forth, with the City of Oakland, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and many others on the side of the dispensary, the federal government has apparently dropped its lawsuit that sought to shut down Oakland's Harborside Health Center and seize the landlord's property on which it was housed. The massive dispensary, in business since 2006 and often cited as the largest in the country, became one of multiple targets of former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag during a bizarre crackdown on the medical marijuana industry around the Bay Area in 2011 and 2012. But today, Oakland officials including Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Councilperson Rebecca Kaplan gave a press conference on the steps of City Hall, as CBS 5 reports, announcing that the U.S. Attorney's Office had dropped the suit, despite the fact that a spokesman for that office denied that the suit was dropped.
"We have a great victory to celebrate and now folks don’t have to worry about a federal raid," said Kaplan, suggesting that all dispensaries were now free and clear.
Said Mayor Schaaf, "The city of Oakland is celebrating today because we believe in compassionate care and public health and the wise expenditure of public funds."
Harborside had become a bit of a favorite target for the federal government, likely because of its size. It was said to be doing $22 million in business each year as of 2012, and serving up to 800 patients per day. In 2011, the IRS came after the dispensary for $2.5 million in back taxes, and not long after, in July 2012, came the threat from Haag that the government would be seizing the dispensary's property, setting off the four-year legal battle that seems to have ended today.
The City of Oakland had tried to appeal to the Supreme Court this year to participate in the lawsuit on Harborside's behalf, but SCOTUS passed on the case, letting a lower court ruling stand that disallowed the city's participation. The city had been arguing that shuttering the huge operation could lead to a boom in illegal drug sales, and put a dent in the city's tax revenue in the process.
The crackdown of five years ago, which was joined by U.S. Attorneys representing all regions of California, focused on what the government saw as overstepping by the state's medical marijuana industry, violating even the state laws that had sought to provide regulation and limitations to its growth. Creating some of the outlines of what will sure be more local battles if recreational marijuana is legalized in this year's election in California, the various crackdowns focused on dispensaries in SF that were too close to schools and playgrounds, in violation of local laws, and some in southern California in municipalities that had already voted them illegal. By making exceptions in federal law that would have called for a wholesale shutdown of all the businesses, and only focusing on local enforcement, the crackdown seemed confused from the outset, and was mostly the feds' efforts to tamp down an industry that they saw as growing out of control.
Impending legalization of recreational marijuana, of course, would have made the Harborside suit look all the more insane, so today's news was inevitable, but still welcome.