August 20, 2015 / 11:57 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. court blocks California city's bid to stop pot dispensary suit

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Thursday blocked efforts by the city of Oakland, California, to stop a U.S. government lawsuit aimed at closing down the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country.

The three-judge panel for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a written opinion that the city has standing to intervene in the civil forfeiture suit against Harborside Health Center, because its closure would cost the city tax revenue.

The judges said, however, that the U.S. government has the discretion to pursue its legal action under the law.

Attorney Cedric Chao, who represented Oakland in the suit, said he respected the court’s decision but disagreed, arguing that it recognized the harm to Oakland but did not provide any legal remedy.

“The end result is Oakland and its 400,000 residents have no recourse. They cannot seek relief in the courts,” Chao said.

Chao said he would confer with city officials on what to do next. He said that if the court’s decision stands after further appeal, then the forfeiture proceedings would reopen in federal district court.

Oakland sought an injunction to halt efforts by federal prosecutors to shut down Harborside through civil forfeiture actions filed in July 2012 against two properties where the clinic operates.

Harborside, which has been featured on the Discovery Channel reality TV show “Weed Wars,” says it is the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the world and serves more than 200,000 registered and certified patients.

Harborside founder Stephen DeAngelo said in a statement that he expects political developments around marijuana in the coming years will push the case to an end.

“We think this is a good time for the U.S. Attorney’s office to dismiss this case,” DeAngelo said. “We have zero intention of closing our doors. We will never abandon our patients.”

Medical marijuana use is legal in 23 states, including California, and the District of Columbia for a number of conditions, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.

Recreational use is legal in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, however.

A report from a panel overseen by California’s lieutenant governor last month said the state should set clear guidelines for legalizing recreational marijuana before voters consider at least one legalization ballot measure in November 2016.

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