Pubdate: Mon, 02 Apr 2012
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2012 SF Newspaper Company LLC
Author: Chris Roberts


A San Francisco medical marijuana collective plans to fight the law
after receiving a shutdown notice from the U.S. Department of Justice.

HopeNet Cooperative, The City's oldest continuously operating
storefront dispensary, has occupied ground-floor commercial space at
223 Ninth St. in South of Market since 2004, city records show. On
Feb. 21, Northern California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag sent HopeNet's
landlords a warning that the dispensary must close within 45 days or
the property could be seized and the owners sentenced to prison time.

Similar letters from Haag have led five other San Francisco
dispensaries to shut down since Oct. 7. The letters warn of 40-year
prison terms and asset forfeitures if the "marijuana distribution" is
not stopped.

But HopeNet plans to remain open past the Friday deadline, operator
Catherine Smith said.

"We're staying," said Smith, whose dispensary received a similar
letter from Joe Russoniello, Haag's predecessor, in 2007. HopeNet also
was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2005.

Property records indicate Clay Investments LLC is the owner of
HopeNet's property, which is a tenancy-in-common building. Clay
Investments is connected to a realty firm operated by Ben Hom. Neither
Hom nor his partners responded to requests for comment.

HopeNet appears to be the first San Francisco dispensary to challenge
the federal government.

Smith, along with husband Steve, faxed a stack of 1,200-odd petitions,
along with protest letters, from cooperative members and neighborhood
supporters to Haag's office, Catherine Smith said.

The dispensary asked city leaders to sign the petition. They declined,
but plan to speak in support of dispensaries at a City Hall news
conference Tuesday, Catherine Smith said.

Jack Gillund, a spokesman for Haag, said the U.S. Attorney's Office
had no comment on HopeNet.

Haag's office began forfeiture proceedings against a Marin County
dispensary that had not left its property by the 45-day deadline. That
dispensary ended up leaving willfully after its landlord began
eviction proceedings. Eviction proceedings, however, are performed in
state court, where medical marijuana law is valid. A to-be-evicted
tenant also can request a jury trial, real estate attorney Dave Crow

This theory -- that a federally threatened dispensary could win during
the eviction proceedings, prompting federal prosecutors to take
further action -- has yet to be tested.

Also, there's another legal wrinkle.

"We're a cooperative," said Catherine Smith. "Even if I wanted to shut
down, there are 1,200 votes saying we should stay open."
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