Oakland back in federal court to fight closure of medical marijuana dispensary

oaksterdam university oaklandOakland’s fight against the federal government’s attempt to shutter the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary was renewed Thursday as attorneys asked a judge to postpone court proceedings in the case. Oakland’s request stems from a federal judge’s ruling in February that concluded Oakland does not have legal standing in a forfeiture case against owners of a building that houses Harborside Health Center.

Oakland is appealing that decision and asked a magistrate judge who made it to postpone all actions in the case until an appeals court has a chance to decide if Oakland can stay in the fight. It could take an appeals court up to a year to hear the case.

Oakland is attempting to squash U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s crusade against medical marijuana in Northern California by arguing that the city has the right to license and regulate dispensaries under state law.

Haag, however, has argued that dispensaries are illegal drug operations and has sought to take two buildings, one in Oakland and one in San Jose, that house Harborside Health Center operations. Haag said the federal government has the right to take the properties under the Controlled Substances Act, a law created to fight the sale and distribution of drugs considered illegal by the federal government.

Oakland filed a lawsuit against Haag and the U.S. Justice Department last year after Haag announced plans to take a building at 1840 Embarcadero owned by Ana Chretien and rented to Harborside.

In its suit, Oakland argued that it had a right to sue in the forfeiture action because the closing of Harborside will uniquely affect the city in a negative way.

Cedric Chao, a private attorney at DLA Piper LLP who represents the city for free, has argued that shuttering the business would create a public safety and health hazard as thousands of medical marijuana patients move to the black market to score their medicine.

Chao reiterated that argument Thursday as he asked Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James to postpone forfeiture hearings until an appeals court hears arguments on James’ decision in February to toss Oakland from the case.

Chao said if the case was continued and the forfeiture was successful, Oakland would have no legal remedy should an appeals court find that James erred in her decision to prevent Oakland from having a say. In addition, Chao argued that the city has raised enough legal issues to prove the appeal is not simply a delaying tactic. It remains unclear when James will make her decision.

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