Appeals Court Rejects Oakland’s Efforts to Keep Harborside Pot Dispensary Open

A federal appeals court today ruled against the city of Oakland’s efforts to block the U.S. Justice Department from closing the city’s largest medical marijuana dispensary.

The ruling today by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Oakland lacked standing to challenge a civil forfeiture lawsuit brought by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag against Harborside Health Center — the self-described largest cannabis dispensary in the nation.

While the appeals court acknowledged that Oakland stood to lose substantial tax revenue if Harborside shut down, it found that the civil forfeiture action could only be challenged in its own proceeding, proceedings the city has no standing in.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement today that while she is pleased that the court recognized Oakland’s potential injury from Harborside’s closure, she disagrees with the ruling on Oakland’s legal standing.

“The bottom line of the court’s decision, is that Oakland and our 400,000 residents do not have access to the courts to obtain relief from the significant injuries that Oakland documented in the District Court,” Parker said.

Haag’s office filed the civil forfeiture lawsuit to seize Harborside’s assets about three years ago in a campaign to crack down on large-scale commercial pot operations, arguing Harborside was a marijuana “superstore.”

The dispensary’s operations are legal under state and local law but remain prohibited under federal law.

The city of Oakland filed its lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department three months later, and the dispensary has remained open as the city worked through the appeals process.

Oakland argued that not only did it stand to lose substantial tax revenue, but that closing the dispensary could cause a rise in crime as patients seek marijuana through the black market and that the city would lose its interest in providing residents with access to medicine.

The 9th Circuit panel found the loss of tax revenue sufficient for the city to challenge the federal government’s attempt to close Harborside, rejecting the argument that such loss of revenue was speculative.

Parker did not say today whether the city planned to further appeal today’s ruling.

Scott Morris, Bay City News

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