SAN FRANCISCO -- The city of Oakland's arguments for why it should be allowed to challenge a federal attempt to shut down the nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary are simply "window dressing" that ignores the law, a federal prosecutor said in court Thursday.
U.S. Department of Justice attorney Kathryn Wyer argued that attorneys representing the city are attempting to sidestep federal drug and forfeiture laws by suing the government over its decision to seek to confiscate a building operated by Harborside Medical Center.
Wyer's comments came in the courtroom of Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James who will decide if Oakland has the right to continue its lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Eric
Oakland attorneys, led by Cedric Chao, an outside hired attorney, have claimed that the city has the right to argue against the federal actions because closing Harborside would cause great harm to the city residents' public safety and health.
In addition, the city has said the federal government's decision to close down Harborside after allowing it to operate for about six years violates federal statute of limitations.
Oakland sued the federal government three months after the office of U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a civil forfeiture action against Harborside's landlord citing the federal Controlled Substance Act, a law that allows governments to take properties used in the sale of illegal drugs.
In it's lawsuit against the federal government, Oakland argued that it had no other legal recourse but to file a suit in an attempt to stop the forfeiture. The city also said it had a right to sue because the federal government's action would severely harm the city socially, criminally and financially.
Harborside generates about $1.4 million in yearly tax revenue for Oakland and provides medical marijuana to tens of thousands of patients, Chao said. If it was forced to close, Oakland would lose the revenue and, at the same time, be forced to deal with a new underground drug business that will be created by Harborside's patients looking in the streets of Oakland for marijuana, Chao said.
"Oakland is trying to uphold its very detailed statute on medical cannabis; Oakland is trying to protect public health," Chao said. "The harm is extreme and dangerous."
But Wyer said that Oakland should not be allowed to sue to stop the forfeiture because it does not have a direct interest in the property from where Harborside operates.
Under federal forfeiture laws, only an entity with direct connections to a property can challenge the government's actions. And, the law states, such a challenge must be made within 60 days of the government's announcement that it was going to seize the property. Wyer said Oakland failed to meet both of those requirements.
Wyer also said Oakland's arguments that the closing of Harborside would create a public health and safety issue are not pertinent to the narrow scope of a forfeiture action.
In fact, she said, it appeared Oakland was simply trying to avoid making arguments about medical marijuana that have already been overruled by the Supreme Court, which found several years ago that under federal law there is no medical purpose for marijuana.
James listened intently to the arguments and her questions did not signify which way she will rule on the issue.
If James agrees with the federal attorneys, Oakland's case will be dismissed. If she rules in favor of the city, a future hearing will take place.
Also, James will hold a hearing later this year on the actual forfeiture action.