The World's Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary vs. One Rogue Prosecutor

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag soldiers on alone in her crusade against Harborside Health Center.


This story was originally published on July 6, 2015. Here's the original writeup:

Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California, is the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world, serving nearly 200,000 patients and distributing $25 million in cannabis per year. It does so out in the open, under the auspices of California law and Oakland's regulatory regime. Federal prosecutors, however, maintain an unfriendly stance on state-legal medical marijuana: it's still illegal under federal law, and must be stopped.

Since 2009, the Department of Justice has repeatedly directed its U.S. attorneys not to bring legal action against cannabusinesses operating in clear compliance with state law. But in 2011, the federal prosecutors in California announced a crackdown on dispensaries, shutting down hundreds through civil forfeiture actions. The prosecutor for the northern district that covers Oakland, Melinda Haag, has been particularly persistent.

"In July of 2012, a civil forfeiture notice was taped to our front door, and we were shocked," says Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo, "because our model has always been about legal compliance and responsibility."

DeAngelo opened Harborside in 2006 to be the first of a new breed of dispensary that was safe, transparent, and beneficial to both patients and the surrounding community. "For many years, I've dreamed of creating an environment that was really worthy of this magnificent, almost magic plant," says DeAngelo.

Harborside offers a litany of medical support structures, including free substance abuse counseling, holistic care, and services tailored to the needs of both elderly patients and children. After all the commercial labs in the Bay Area refused DeAngelo's request to test his cannabis due to federal law, he simply started his own facility, Steep Hill Labs, which went on to pioneer testing methodologies and treatments. Harborside became the first dispensary in the world to lab test all of its medicine.

"Nobody, including U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, has ever made any allegation that Harborside has violated California laws regarding cannabis—nobody," states DeAngelo plainly. In direct contrast with the factors listed by Haag as justification for the crackdown, DeAngelo stresses that Harborside is far from being a profiteer that attracts a nasty criminal element. In fact, its neighborhood has seen a significant reduction in crime since its opening, it has no weapons or barbed wire on the premises, it is certified yearly as a non-profit, and it is more than 1,000 feet away from any sensitive sites, like playgrounds or schools.

For Melinda Haag, it's size that matters. "Somehow, she argued, simply because we had so many patients, that it would be more likely that people would be breaking the law," says DeAngelo. "She never really explained that theory."

With the crackdown extending to other reputable cannabusinesses such as Oaksterdam University, the city of Oakland became worried about the crisis that could ensue if the responsible distribution mechanisms were shut down. So the city decided to join Harborside's case and sue the Department of Justice to seek relief for injuries to its regulatory regime, tax revenue, and citizens' health and safety.

Attorney Cedric Chao took the case pro bono on behalf of Oakland's city attorney. "When Oakland issued its permits, the black market in Oakland for marijuana dropped," says Chao. "These patients are not going to just stop and say, 'OK, that's great. I'm gonna go back to my pain.' They're going to go on the streets."

The fundamental issue now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is whether or not Oakland is able to join Harborside in its underlying civil forfeiture case. But if you thought Haag might sing a different tune after a major U.S. city sided with a pot shop against the federal government, think again.

Even after Congress twice passed bills barring the DOJ from using federal funds on cases such as Harborside's, after all other U.S. attorneys in California dropped their remaining civil forfeiture cases, and after further guidance from the DOJ that prosecutors should look the other way on recreational marijuana where it is now legal, Melinda Haag soldiers on in her crusade against Harborside. "The federal government is—whether you want to call them hypocritical or schizophrenic—it's confused," says Chao.

For the full story on how this weed civil war is unfolding, watch the video above. Click below for downloadable versions. And subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel for daily content like this.

6:50 minutes.

Produced, Written and Edited by Justin Monticello. Shot by Zach Weissmueller.

Music by Phemale, Gablé, Battle of Wood, & Elettroliti.

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    1. Sounds like he's just the kind of douche that will do well at the Washington Post.

    2. His boo hoo hoo depression article is just sad. Nobody likes me, waaaaahhhh!

      You get out of this life what you put into it. If you're constantly a prick, then yeah, people aren't going to like you. No pill is going to fix that.

    3. Here's a great pull quote: "Weigel's mean-spirited falsehoods continue, proving my point about his mental illness."

      Doesn't he demonstrate this pretty much every day here? BTW, didn't he once write for this publication?

      1. He did. For quite a while.

        The contempt was more or less mutual at the end.

        1. End? I showed nothing but contempt for most of his run here.

          1. That's because you're a HitandRunpublican who has no respect for the libertarian editors. of Reason

            /common cosmotarian sentiment then-and-now

          2. I didn't really read the comments back then. I was a print subscriber, and that's it. I didn't really know about the juicy stuff until journolist.

            1. Oh? Do your ulcer/nut cup is younger than mine! you know, I'm jealous. And it's not the Manhattan Beach thing.

                1. Just an Agile Cyborg in training.

    4. #FreeChuck #GingerRevolution

    5. Also, fuck that guy. and fuck the Reason writers that defend him (here or twitter) because they are "friends" with the statist, self righteous prick. If you are remotely libertarian minded, he doesn't really like you. No matter how he acts. And fuck Haag, too.

    6. You beat me to it. Anyway, it's only a matter of time until he fucks up again.

  1. You misspelled Hag.

    1. You misspelled cunt

  2. OT: Obama Nationalizes the Suburbs

    "AFFH is easily one of President Obama's most radical initiatives, on a par with Obamacare in its transformative potential. In effect, AFFH gives the federal government a lever to re-engineer nearly every American neighborhood ? imposing a preferred racial and ethnic composition, densifying housing, transportation, and business development in suburb and city alike, and weakening or casting aside the authority of local governments over core responsibilities, from zoning to transportation to education."

    1. Probably won't be helpful for public perception that this is being run by a guy named Castro.

    2. I would like to take zoning out of local control too, but in a different way.

    3. Seems like a great way to ween local governments off the old federal teat

  3. Im making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

    This is what I do! ..

  4. it's still illegal under federal law,

    No, it's not. Please stop repeating this canard.

    There is no constitutional authority for a federal ban on any drug. It took an amendment to ban alcohol, and that amendment was repealed.


    1. "It took an amendment to ban alcohol.."

      That was before they remembered that the commerce clause gave them the right to fuck with any and every conceivable thing imaginable.. Amendments are a pain in the ass, SCOTUS makes imposing your will a snap..

  5. So how does she answer charges that she's violating Congressional funding restrictions re medical marijuana?

    1. Charges?

      What charges?

      Haag does the charging. Haag doesn't get charged.

      She is a FedGov lawyer don't you know ?

      Since her political affiliaqtion isn't mentioned she is probably a Democrat and it's kinda nice to see them begin to eat their own. It's just a shame that some people get thrown into the government woodchipper as collateral damage.

      Speaking of government collateral damage I can't wait to watch the "Affirmative Fair Housing" plan go into effect.

      Here is a form from the FedGov asking what racial/ethnic group you plan to build housing for and why.

      You know all the weed I smoked in my younger years has come back to haunt me I suppose. All along I thoght I was living in 2015 but now I realize it is 1984.


  6. Sounds like this lady has quite a bug up her ass and a chip on her shoulder. If only there were some way to mellow her out or get rid of that chip.

    1. I can think of one way, but it might make her paranoid and feeling like a fraud whom no one likes. In other words, she'd face reality.

      1. My life experience tells me that a big 'ole penis is what is really missing in her life.

        But that's just an opinion, legally.

  7. So she's going to be impeached, right? She's spending money from the federal treasury without authority from Congress, in fact in the teeth of a budget resolution by Congress forbidding the obstruction of state medical MJ laws.

    Any time now, then, I'm guessing House leaders will be bringing forward an impeachment resolution?

    Any time now...

    1. I wonder if Team Obama decides to conduct a number of targeted killings on Fridays, Saturdays, so they can get very low media coverage of their ongoing prosecution of military conflicts.

      I tried googling it, and all i got was a lot of stories about Obama "dropping the N-bomb" in an interview

  8. Sigh.

    Here we go again.

    Melinda Haag. Cunt or righteous crusader of the people?

    /turns woodchipper on.

    People are being serviced in a voluntary activity between two parties. What's this chick's friggin' problem? Is she angling for a bigger position to have a 'I was tough on crime' tag on her resume?

    Lord me these people are evil.

    1. "/turns woodchipper on."

      unfortunately her woodchipper is bigger than yours.

    2. That's a good question. I don't know how she thinks she has a political future in the state by leading this crusade. Medical marijuana -- if not outright full legalization -- is favored by a solid majority in California these days and the support is across party lines (even with the open primary system California has, she will likely be running from behind on the issue as a D). Is she hoping that there'll be a backlash of some kind? That some stoned idiot is going to drive into a playground?

      If she's hoping to enter private practice after her term is up, I don't see any California firm marking this as a positive.

  9. Oh. Since the attack on Reason by Ralph Malph and Potsie, I'm guessing courageous people in positions of power are reading.

    /waves, smiles, gives the finger.

  10. I read the article's title, saw the word marijuana and the phrase 'rogue prosecutor' and knew it was Melinda Haag.

    That is one evil bitch. It's too bad she hasn't jumped head first into a woodchipper.

  11. Since 2009, the Department of Justice has repeatedly directed its U.S. attorneys not to bring legal action against cannabusinesses operating in clear compliance with state law.

    "And next time, they'll mean it."

    Six frickin years?

    Melissa Haag isn't the problem, she's a symptom.

    The solution is, "If you have an open case against any of these cannabusinesses on July 31, clean out your desk."

    1. Or.. subpoena/warrant for violation of Section 242 of Title 18..

  12. The solution is THIS: Cannabis SHALL be removed from CSA "Schedule I", and placed in "CSA Subchapter I, Part A, ?802. Definitions, paragraph (6)", appended to the list "distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or tobacco", where it will STILL be the least-toxic in the category [by several orders of magnitude].

    In other words, completely EXEMPT from CSA scheduling.

    Anything short of that is unacceptable. Absolutely.

    In your FACE, Haag.

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