OAKLAND -- An Oakland medical marijuana dispensary that calls itself the nation's largest, now has city government in its corner in the continuing battle to stop the U.S. Department of Justice from seizing its building.
The city of Oakland filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Wednesday seeking to prevent the federal government from taking possession of the Harborside Health Center building at 1840 Embarcadero.
In filing the suit, City Attorney Barbara Parker -- an outspoken supporter of medical marijuana -- said the lawsuit is about protecting the rights of "legitimate patients."
"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," Parker said.
On July 10, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a civil forfeiture complaint against the landlord of Harborside, which claims $22 million in annual revenues and has operations in Oakland and San Jose.
Harborside has rented the Oakland property since 2006 and operates under city-issued permit. Oakland netted $1.68 million in taxes from dispensaries last year, about two-thirds of which came from Harborside.
"These business are operating under our regulation," said Parker. "Not only are these businesses licensed but they pay their fair share.
Haag and California's three other federal prosecutors have brought similar actions against landlords throughout the state that lease space to dispensaries.
Industry veterans said that Harborside's demise could prompt new dispensary operators -- potentially more interested in profit than helping patients -- to get into the business and vie for its customers.
Stephen DeAngelo, co-founder of Harborside, was not available for comment Wednesday but an outgoing message on the business voice mail affirms its intention to fight to stay open: "Rest assured, Harborside is not in imminent danger of closing. We intend to keep the commitment we made six years ago to provide our patients with safe access to the medicine their doctors have recommend for as long as we possibly can. We will never abandon you."
The crackdown against the state's medical cannabis industry began last October. Since, federal prosecutors have forced hundreds of dispensaries to close, citing state violations for being located within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.
Haag has said she is also turning her attention to "marijuana superstores" such as Harborside that aren't near areas where children congregate but that could have a greater likelihood to abuse state laws. She said Harborside, because of its size, violates the spirit of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, the 1996 California law concerning the use of medical cannabis.
Parker argues that the federal government should stay away from businesses that are complying with local and state law and instead focus its resources "on violent crime and illegal guns that are snuffing out so many lives" in Oakland.
"In the midst of this crisis, it is a tragic waste for the federal government to spend its time and resources cracking down on legitimate health care providers."