Harborside Health Center stands its ground

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.