Pubdate: Thu, 05 May 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


In the latest sign that the federal Justice Department is waving the 
white flag in the war on cannabis, federal prosecutors have agreed to 
drop a nearly four-year-long effort to shut down Oakland-based 
mega-dispensary Harborside Health Center, the dispensary announced Tuesday.

Harborside, by reputation and by self-declaration the biggest seller 
of medical cannabis in the world, seemed to be skating through a 
short-lived and somewhat half-hearted crackdown on California medical 
cannabis sellers - a pushback that began in 2011, and eventually 
closed one-third of the legal cannabis sellers in San Francisco - 
until just before the Fourth of July in 2012, when federal 
prosecutors filed suit to seize the Oakland Embarcadero property that 
houses the dispensary.

Under terms of the settlement, which have yet to be finalized in 
federal court, Harborside will stay open as long as it agrees not to 
file further appeals or any claims (such as attorneys' fees) against 
the government. The feds have not commented on the suit.

A similar suit, filed against Berkeley Patients Group, is still 
pending, according to federal court records. There, the City of 
Berkeley tried to join the suit on BPG's behalf, as the city of 
Oakland did with Harborside. In the BPG case, Berkeley appealed a 
rejection of that move to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where 
the case currently stands.

But even if the government wanted to pursue that case, it may be 
unable. Congress has removed the Justice Department's funding for 
interfering with state-legal cannabis. This is under a budget 
amendment that needs annual renewing, but has gained more support. 
And a U.S. District judge in San Francisco ruled the budget move 
means the feds literally cannot get involved in a marijuana 
situation, as long as that situation follows state law.

With that in mind, dropping the Harborside case may have been a fait 
accompli. But a win is a win, and this is a big win for weed.

Evicted for Weed? It Could Happen.

If you live in San Francisco and don't own your home - which is to 
say, if you are like most San Franciscans - your most precious 
resource, the most valuable commodity under your domain is your home. 
If it's rent-controlled - and particularly if it's a one-bedroom 
under $3,500 or the equivalent - it's the kind of domicile that 
simply does not exist under current market conditions (and may never again).

In San Francisco, the list of wrongs for which the penalty is losing 
this most precious resource is slim, but it does include violating 
the lease. For example, many leases outlaw tobacco smoking. If you 
smoke cigarettes inside your apartment, you could eventually lose 
your housing. Sounds reasonable enough.

But what about smoking marijuana? Yes, you can get evicted for that, too.

It sounds far-fetched and more than a little outrageous, but tenants 
losing housing for smoking pot has been a long-standing issue. 
Representatives from the California chapter of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) say they have 
"for years" received monthly calls from tenants saying their 
landlords are threatening them over weed. And "to my knowledge, 
nobody has ever succeeded in challenging the landlord," says Dale 
Gieringer, Cal NORML's executive director.

It may be a tough sell before the Rent Board in San Francisco - where 
nobody I found could name an incident in which weed smoking saw 
someone kicked to the curb - and it does not happen often, even in 
other, less-tenant-friendly climes. The last high-profile case in the 
greater Bay was in 1997, when a disabled tenant in Santa Cruz named 
Scott Hager was threatened with eviction and agreed to move out in a 
court settlement - but it can happen, and state law may soon be 
changed to clarify it can happen.

Under a bill authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), one of 
the authors of last year's Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety 
Act, landlords would have the express ability to ban marijuana 
smoking in their properties.

At least on paper, the issue here is secondhand smoke. Wood presents 
a University of California, San Francisco study that saw rats who 
were exposed to 30 minutes of secondhand weed smoke experience a "70 
percent drop in blood function." (Cannabis advocates take issue with 
the study, noting that it relied on the ugly, low-quality weed grown 
by the federal government at the University of Mississippi - not the 
stuff anyone would actually consume these days.)

The bill, AB 2300, cleared a committee vote last week on a unanimous 
vote. It's not likely to see much opposition.

It's also unlikely to change things too much.

Most leases have a boilerplate clause banning any activity forbidden 
by law. Though AB 2300 would allow landlords to go through a process 
to amend leases retroactively to add cannabis use to the list of 
banned activities, landlords can already start the eviction process 
for weed smoking, as courts have found.

Would this mean a mass exodus of weed smokers, especially in a tight 
rental market? Almost certainly not. As stated above, landlords have 
the ability to ban weed use now, and take action against tenants now. 
And though it's a far-fetched scenario, it's more likely if your 
neighbors start complaining about the copious clouds of smoke coming 
from your unit, it could happen.

Consider this fair warning.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom