Oakland loses fight with feds to save Harborside dispensary

By Oscar Pascual |

Oakland’s attempt to save their best-known marijuana dispensary has been shut down.

The city lost an appeal on Thursday to block the federal forfeiture of Harborside Health Center — the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary by reputation, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

However, that doesn’t mean that all is lost for Harborside, one of the city’s biggest taxpayers at roughly $25 million worth of cannabis sold per year.

Despite the setback, the club isn’t closing anytime soon.

“The panel held that Oakland had standing to bring suit under Article III where Oakland alleged a sufficient injury with respect to the erosion of its tax revenues. The panel also held, however, that judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act was precluded because the government’s decision to file the forfeiture action was committed to agency discretion by law, and because allowing the suit to proceed would impermissibly disrupt the existing forfeiture framework,” the ruling states.

The decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes from a review of a previous lower court ruling against the city of Oakland’s lawsuit, which argues that a federal shutdown of a city-approved and regulated dispensary would clash against California’s voter-approved medical marijuana laws.

Despite the court’s anti-Oakland ruling, judges did acknowledge that forfeiture of the dispensary would be a massive blow to many of the city’s interests, such as generating tax revenue and keeping marijuana sales in legal stores rather than through the black market, which could lead to a boost in crime rates.

“I was very pleased that the court agrees that city of Oakland will suffer significant grievous injury if Harborside closes down,” said Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker to the Mercury News. “I’m perplexed by the court’s other finding that despite recognition that we will have this injury, there’s no remedy for it.”

Harborside’s history of legal battles originates from San Francisco U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s attempt to shut down the dispensary in 2012, under the suspicion that it’s so large that they would likely sell medical marijuana products to customers with no medical recommendation.

Haag filed suit to seize the dispensary in July 2012. A similar forfeiture action was filed against Berkeley Patients Group in 2013.

Despite Haag’s term ending on September 1, Harborside’s executive director Stephen DeAngelo will likely see more legal battles to come.

“This ruling is not going to have any real-life effect on Harborside or our patients in the foreseeable future,” DeAngelo told the Mercury News. “This is just one more step in litigation that’s been going on for several years, and we are expecting to continue for several more years unless the federal government decides to dismiss the case.”

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