Oakland Sues Eric Holder, Challenging Forfeiture of City-Licensed Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Yesterday the city of Oakland, California, sued Attorney General Eric Holder and Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, challenging the Justice Department's forfeiture of the property that has been occupied by Harborside Health Center, the state's largest medical marijuana dispensary, since 2006. The city's complaint, prepared by the San Francisco firm Morrison & Foerster, argues that the forfeiture action, initiated last July, exceeded the five-year time limit prescribed by federal law, since by that point the city-licensed dispensary had been operating for almost six years. More intriguingly, the city argues that the forfeiture is barred by the principle of estoppel because for years Oakland officials reasonably relied on the federal government's assurances that it would not target medical marijuana suppliers unless they violated state law. Based on that understanding, the city created a regulatory system for dispensaries with which Harborside complied, and now the feds are saying all bets are off.

Although I doubt the latter argument will fly in federal court, the lawsuit usefully highlights the glaring inconsistency between the Obama administration's intensified crackdown on medical marijuana and promises like these:

Barack Obama, March 2008: "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue."

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, May 2008: "Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice." According to the San Francisco Chronicle, "LaBolt also said Obama would end U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids on medical marijuana suppliers in states with their own laws."

White House spokesman Nick Shapiro, February 2009: "The president believes that federal resources should not be used to circumvent state laws,"

Attorney General Holder, February 2009: "What he said during the campaign is now American policy."

Holder, March 2009: "The policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law."

Deputy Attorney General David Ogden, October 2009: U.S. attorneys "should not focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

Holder, May 2010: "We look at the state laws, and what the restrictions are....Is marijuana being sold consistent with state law?"

Holder, June 2012: "We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity...with state laws."

According to the Chronicle, Haag, the U.S. attorney going after Harborside, says the dispensary "is not complying with California's law because it is a large-scale operation that processes millions of dollars worth of business." Yet California's Medical Marijuana Program Act, which specifically contemplates "collective, cooperative cultivation projects" by patients and caregivers involved in "selling, serving, storing, keeping, manufacturing, or giving away" marijuana, imposes no size limit on such organizations, so this distinction seems to be Haag's invention. When she announced the forfeiture action, Haag argued that "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." Maybe, but that is a matter for state and local officials to address.

The truth is that Haag, like the Obama administration in general, is talking out of both sides of her mouth. In a February 2011 letter to Oakland's city attorney, she declared, "We will enforce the [Controlled Substances Act] vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law" (emphasis added). As a spokesman for her colleague André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, admitted a year ago, "At the end of the day, California law doesn't matter." And neither do the president's promises.

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  • Killazontherun||

    Eric Holder reminds you of that guy you dated in college who you thought was cool, but then you came back from the store with your cigs, beer and tampons and he is standing at the bathroom door with his arms folded and a smug smirk on his face while your bag of pot is circling the toilet.

  • Restoras||

    Also the jerk RA that scolded you for breaking rules. Of course, the fact that he's being a dick now is probably an indication that the kids that wanted to be left alone did what they wanted to do anyway, and now he's getting revenge.

  • ||

    Eric Holder reminds me of that guy I keep hearing about on the better media outlets named Eric Holder -- an ironhanded, political-gamer degenerate for whom the only appropriate justice would be a gallows and a sturdy rope.

  • Restoras||

    Maybe the stoners patients and proprietors can tie Haag to a stake and torch infuse her with aroma all the confiscated weed?

  • ||

    Hellspawn aren't susceptible to fire.

  • T||

    You just gotta get it hot enough, RPA. I recommend thermite and magnesium.

  • Doctor Whom||

    This administration has always been at war with Eastasia medical marijuana.

  • R C Dean||

    The city's complaint, prepared by the San Francisco firm Morrison Foerster,

    Heavy hitters.

    I like the estoppel argument, although without some specific, written statement relating to that facility that they can say they relied on, I don't like their chances either.

    Still, it may present a good venue for arguing that "collective, cooperative cultivation projects" admits of no size limitation, and can encompass any large-scale operation that otherwise complies with state law. I would think that a non-profit or co-op with members that are either prescribed users or designated caregivers would pass muster.

  • Restoras||

    Anyone that has the balls to use
    www.mofo.com/
    for their web address is not to be trifled with.

  • R C Dean||

    I did not know that.

    They just went into my shortlist of firms to call next time we need some serious lawyerin'.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    As a spokesman for her colleague André Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, admitted a year ago, "At the end of the day, California law doesn't matter."

    This would be the sort of statement that, if I were in the California government, would get Mr. Birotte an extra-special helping of government harassment. He would be held for questioning in regards to crimes without witnesses, he'd find his vehicle booted when he went to dinner with his wife and/or colleagues, he'd have a hard time keeping his tail-lights in working order, and his property tax assessment would be unforeseeably higher than in previous years.

  • Drake||

    You are assuming somebody in the CA government is competent enough to purposely abuse their powers.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    You mean all of the things that go on in California are...accidental?

    Stop it. You're scaring me.

  • Drake||

    They prefer the word "unexpected".

  • ||

    If this were, say, Missouri or Georgia, sure, that might be possible. But this is California. Not a single fuck is ever given when the federales make such a claim.

  • Drake||

    In MA or NJ, it would be a sure thing.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    At last! Missouri's small-mindedness and parochialism will bear fruit!

  • ||

    Small-mindedness and parochialism? Explain!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It's not as bad outside of the cities, but in KC and STL (especially StL), you have what amount to fiefs, especially in North County and the city. Municipalities that might be no larger than a few blocks that are under the control of the openly corrupt (Pine Lawn, Kinloch, Wellston, Bel-Nor looking at you) and people who live and die in the same neighborhoods with damn little interest in anything going on outside of it. The city (which is a separate county all together) has alderman whose sole job to squabble over tax revenue and try to raid the cops' pension fund, which they can't, because the city police are under the control of Jeff City and have been since the Civil War (a fun, but unrelated story).

  • Brockland||

    Consider INVESTING in the full legalization movement with stock symbol MJNA (Medical Marijuana Inc). With the most recent October polls surging in Washington (24 point lead) and Colorado (10 point lead), ALL with majority support, and with WA GOP US Senate Candidate Michael Baumgartner's recent announcement of official support for I-502, there's no telling where this will go in November. Just look at what happened in the lead up to Prop19 in 2010.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Incidentally, while we're on the topic, it would be great if Reason gave some more coverage of the FDA's shutdown of Canadadrugs.com.

    It's bad enough that they make it so hard for people to get medical marijuana--even worse that they're making it so hard for people to get standard prescriptions filled, too.

    Canadadrugs was filling a lot of prescriptions for people on Medicare--'cause it was cheaper to get their prescriptions filled there than it was with Medicare reimbursement.

    You'd think the Obama Administration wouldn't want to piss off so many elderly people in the run up to an election, but then the Obama administration doesn't have any idea what's in our country's best interest. So, I guess it shouldn't surprise us that they have no idea what's in their own best interest either.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Vice President Al Gore has made millions off green energy investments that have been handed billions in federal subsidies by the current administration."

    That might seem hanky panky to someone looking from the outside, but inside the Democratic Party, that's called "socially responsible investing".

  • Ken Shultz||

    Ah shit.

    Wrong thread.

    It had to happen eventually!

  • k||

    Its time to out litigate them and only go for jury trials

  • IceTrey||

    Shouldn't the entire government of California be charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs? After all they licensed and took money from Harborside.

  • Mr Whipple||

    At the risk of sounding like a misogynistic, sexist, ass,

    Melinda Haag: Cunt cunt cunt cunt cunt, fucked up cunt whore bitch.

    Anyways, there's always "The Road".

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