Is This the Beginning of the End of the War on Weed?

World's biggest pot shop vs. the feds.


This story was 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 throughcivil 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 recreationalmarijuana 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.

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  1. The is the beginning of the war over the end of the war on weed.

    1. Brought to you by moms against everything and AG’s who think they’re God.

  2. Where are the old comments? They go up in smoke?

    1. Dave’s not here man.

      1. No, man, I’m Dave, man.

    2. Holy crap… what’s with the lack of consistency, some threads they keep them, other ones wiped clean.

  3. Bah, this is how you fight the War on Weed.

    Only thing video doesn’t show is what happens when you stand close to the field while it’s burning.

  4. Beer makes us better, smarter, faster. Beer is a proven “miracle’ liquid.

  5. Its a MORAL IMPERATIVE that Medical Marijuana be immediately legalized in all 50 states.

    For Cancer patients, for kids suffering from Seizures, and for so many others, safe, legal, access to Medical Marijuana is a matter of life and death

    Ask any American who’s gone through Chemotherapy who’s used it. Ask the parents of any American kid with a seizure disorder who’s life its saved.

    We need the President to cut through the red tape and take personal action on this issue right now. We need Congress to pass the CARERS act too. Americans are suffering and dying — needlessly!

    Please call the whitehouse comment line at (202) 456-1111 and ask that the President have Marijuana removed from Schedule 1. Call and email your Senators and Representative as well and ask that they pass the CARERS act immediately.

    Call every day, and ask everyone you know to call every day, and to keep calling, for however long it takes, until the President, Congress or both take action. Please do everything you can to get as many people as possible to call and keep on calling.

    Do everything you can to help with this effort.

    With luck the effort will go viral.

    The lives of countless Americans depend on it.

    1. Its a MORAL IMPERATIVE that Medical Marijuana be immediately legalized in all 50 states.


  6. Newsweek has an excellent article in their July 22nd special issue on CANCER entitled “Medical Marijuana is a Wonder Drug when it comes to the horrors of Chemo”

  7. We need GMO, roundup-ready weed. Oh.
    At least it would be better than GMO corn that overproduces because of the ethanol subsidy. Would we even have GMO corn if not for ethanol and t2 diabetes, liver rotting HFCS?

  8. There won’t be an end to any of this so long as the drug war remains profitable to statists.

  9. Does this woman not have a boss? Does that boss not have some kind of incentive to tell her to fucking shut up before she costs him lots of money?

  10. 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.

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