In a move to stop the Feds from shutting down Harborside Health Center, the City of Oakland filed a lawsuit against the Feds in an effort to get them to “restrain and declare unlawful” a forfeiture case put forth by the Feds against Harborside’s landlord.
Here is an excerpt from the New York Times piece that ran today:
“This lawsuit is about protecting the rights of legitimate medical patients,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement on Wednesday, when the suit was filed. “I am deeply dismayed that the federal government would seek to deny these rights and deprive thousands of seriously ill Californians of access to safe, affordable and effective medicine.”
The civil lawsuit, which the City Council approved, seeks to “restrain and declare unlawful” the forfeiture proceedings against the landlords of the dispensary, Harborside Health Center, stating that Oakland will “suffer irreparable harm if the dispensaries are shuttered.”
“It is heartening to see the city stand up and support us,” said Steve DeAngelo, Harborside’s executive director. At its Oakland location, the nonprofit dispensary employs 100 people and serves some 112,000 more, seeing 600 to 800 customers a day. Last year, the group paid $3.5 million in taxes, including $1.1 million to the city.
It is great to see the City stand up for the rights of the medical cannabis community. It is not clear where they believe their legal standing will overcome the usual “If a City makes embezzlement legal that does not mean the Feds cannot enforce embezzlement laws” argument that is normally put forth, but it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.
One of the issues that may arise though is that the Feds decide to use their power in retaliation to the lawsuit. Recall, in Montana, on the same day the Senate Committee was to vote on repealing the state’s medical marijuana regulations the Feds raided a dozen facilities there in a show of force; so it is not unheard of for these folks to conveniently use their rights to enforce Federal law in an effort to make a statement.
Where does this agressive action by the City leave the other three dispensaries that operate in the City, as well as the four other applicants who are in the process of trying to open facilities there? Could this lawsuit pose risk to the existing folks and hamper the efforts of the folks coming on?
Here is a quote from City Attorney Barbara J. Parker from an LA Times piece:
If federal prosecutors succeed in shuttering Harborside, she said, “public safety could be worsened because those patients would be out in the black market purchasing this medicine from criminals.”
Now that is not an entirely true statement. As mentioned, there are other access points in the City; but she is right in asserting that a very large and professional organization that serves tens of thousands of patients a month would be lost, and those patients would be displaced. That would be terrible for the community. But what if this action resulted in a more sweeping action to flex their muscles to the City and all of the dispensaries in Oakland are shut down as a result? Then you will see patients even more so displaced.
I am not sure what the answer is, and only time will really tell. I have long called for cities and counties to step up and defend their medical cannabis business and patient communities. My ideas were more resolution and political alliance based efforts, but a lawsuit is a much bolder and striking move. It is also more risky.
Do not forget that El Camino Wellness in Sacramento, who sued the Feds was raided, and Marin Alliance who sued the Feds in the Northern District also remains closed, so the Feds do have a history of seemingly vindictive enforcement practices. Since this is an action taken by an entire City, could the City of Oakland then become the target of enforcement? It is possible.
But it is also possible that they make a great case and blow the doors off of this thing. I know Oakland’s legal department has had their fair share of issues, including Occupy protest issues and with their plans to license four industrial size cultivation facilities; but if their case holds water it could be the first step in backing the Feds up. It seems like a longshot on the surface, but I would hope that they have a better legal argument than those who have come and failed before them.
The reality is that cannabis prohibition is evil, so regardless of what happens I am still proud of Oakland for stepping up and putting their name on the line. I was reminded that this is somewhat similar to the WAMM lawsuit where the City and/or County joined on as co-plaintiffs. While that lawsuit ended in a sort of stalemate, there were no agressive actions brought against the City or County. I hope that bodes well for Oakland. that was a different time, with different folks, and a much less focused media blitz.
I am pulling for Oakland and Harborside. I am praying Uncle Sam keeps his wits about him and does not decide to do something stupid to show us all who is the boss. I hate it when they do that.