Pubdate: Thu, 19 Jul 2012
Source: Sacramento News & Review (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: David Downs


Feds Seek Forfeiture of State's Most Prominent Dispensary; Owner Vows 
to Remain Open

The largest medical-marijuana dispensary in Northern California will 
stay open and fight federal forfeiture claims against its leased 
property, said operator Stephen DeAngelo.

Last week, the 100,000-patient dispensary alerted its customers and 
the media that the federal government had filed forfeiture claims 
against Harborside Health Center's building in Oakland and its 
location in San Jose. The federal government can seize property under 
current drug laws if the property is used in the distribution of a 
drug-in this case, federally illegal cannabis.

Before a crowd of about 50 journalists and activists, DeAngelo made 
clear that the patients most in need of medical marijuana are the 
ones who suffer the most when dispensaries close, and Harborside is 
not closing.

"Harborside has nothing to hide, we have nothing to be ashamed of and 
we have no intention of closing our doors. We shall continue to 
provide our patients with medicine. We will contest the [U.S. 
Department of Justice] openly, in public and through all means at our 
disposal. We look forward to our day in court," DeAngelo said. "We 
will never abandon our patients."

Harborside attorney Henry Wykowski could not set a time line for 
forfeiture proceedings against the buildings. Patients can continue 
to access marijuana at the dispensary.

Still, Harborside's potential loss would cost the city about $1 
million per year in tax revenue, about 150 jobs, and it would be a 
huge blow to the medical-marijuana movement in California.

In October 2011, the U.S. attorney's office in California declared a 
broad crackdown on marijuana businesses. U.S. Attorney for the 
Northern District Melinda Haag said she would focus her scarce 
resources on closing down clubs close to schools or parks.

The forfeiture case against Harborside marks a departure for Haag, 
who said in a statement Tuesday that she wants to close Harborside 
not due to promixity, but due to its size.

"The larger the operations, the greater the likelihood that there 
will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws," she wrote.

Haag offered no evidence Harborside was breaking state laws.

At the press conference, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker 
testified to Harborside's compliance with state and local law. 
Parker-a former assistant U.S. attorney-called the crackdown a 
"tragic waste of the federal government's time."

Rep. Barbara Lee said in a statement Monday that closing Harborisde 
would be "nothing short of a tragedy."

California State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee said lawful 
dispensaries under attack in California contribute $100 million in 
sales taxes each year, and the federal crackdown on law-abiding 
businesses undermines public safety.

"It's time for federal government at the highest levels to put a stop 
to harassing legitimate business such as Harborside Health Center," she wrote.
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