U.S. cracks down on "world's largest" medical marijuana dispensary

LOS ANGELES Wed Jul 11, 2012 10:14pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have filed civil forfeiture actions against an Oakland medical marijuana dispensary that bills itself as the world's largest, as part of a crackdown by U.S. authorities on California's massive cannabis trade.

The lawsuits, filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, seek forfeiture of two properties where Harborside Health Center operates, said Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California.

Harborside says it is the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world, serving more than 100,000 patients in a "beautiful waterfront location," and is subject of the Discovery Channel reality TV show "Weed Wars."

"The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need," Haag said in a statement on Wednesday announcing the actions.

"The filing of the civil forfeiture complaints against the two Harborside properties is part of our measured effort to address the proliferation of illegal marijuana businesses in the Northern District of California," she said.

In a statement on its website, the clinic said, "Harborside has nothing to be ashamed of, and will contest the Federal actions openly and publicly, with every legal means at our disposal."

"We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side. Come what may, we shall continue to care for our patients unless we are physically prevented from doing so," the statement said.

Harborside also announced a news conference for Thursday morning to respond to the "federal attack," saying that Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other city, state and union officials would attend.

The action against Harborside is the latest in a crackdown on what federal prosecutors say is a flourishing network of illegal cannabis suppliers operating across California under the cover of the state's medical marijuana law.

The possession or sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law, which does not have an exemption for medical purposes.

The drive by federal prosecutors to shut down dispensaries has caused friction between the U.S. government and California, which in 1996 became the first state to decriminalize medical marijuana. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have followed suit.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, in a November interview with The New York Times, said the federal campaign had "only increased uncertainty about how Californians can legitimately comply with state law."

Harris also said federal authorities were "ill equipped to be the decision makers as to which providers are violating the law."

Federal prosecutors say the dispensaries operate outside of California law, which permits only primary caregivers to dispense marijuana and bans sale of the drug for profit.

(Additional reporting by Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Tim Gaynor and Peter Cooney)

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Comments (8)
groinksan wrote:
Although marijuana is a bad thing and all, I do stand behind the state’s right to set their own laws. As long as it follows the constitution, whether it is immigration, drugs, etc., the states do have the right. This is just another Obama administration misunderstanding of the constitution and the meaning of being a republic. First, they pull ICE out of Arizona. Second, they fight with Florida and Texas when these states have the right to clean the voting logs. And, the admin say that illegal aliens are not illegal. Now, they’re pushing their weight on the medical marijuana business. The law as passed is legal by CA, although personally I think CA are fruit loops, and pot is probably making much of the state stupid. But still, we must support the states’ ability to create their own laws when the federal laws do not meet their needs. That’s part of being a republic – this is the “united” states of America, not the State of America.

Jul 11, 2012 12:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
yrconscience wrote:
How much would any one like to wager that this crackdown is tied to the business coalition behind the ACA, in particular the pharmaceuticals industry? That the current administration supports this crackdown is hypocritical being they initially said they would no longer pursue prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries. Not that I support Romney, but it is behavior like this that renders this administration no better, though certainly no worse than its predecessors.

It is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars to keep marijuana use illegal, and its illegality is solely due to economics, not any real danger that its use presents. The gov’t, whether state or federal, can trot out all the bought-and-paid-for expert testimony they want, however nothing will alter the actual facts.

Jul 12, 2012 11:40am EDT  --  Report as abuse
reg.doug wrote:
@groinksan I would normally agree with you, but in this case we have a state trying to override a federal law and the feds sort of going along with them… so really I think that the federal government is being surprisingly sanguine.

@yrconscience Marijuana is harmful, just like tobacco. Do you really want to go through everything that tobacco has been through all over again with pot? (Advertising laws, health care costs, etc)

Jul 12, 2012 4:40pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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