Oakland’s Harborside pot club fights feds
U.S. attorney: East Oakland center a ‘superstore’
Updated 11:53 am, Friday, January 24, 20
Harborside Health Center‘s co-founder said Thursday that he will fight the federal government’s effort to shut down his sprawling medical cannabis complex in East Oakland.
And if he loses, he’ll keep the operation going in any way possible, Stephen DeAngelo said.
“We have no intention of closing our doors,” DeAngelo said at a news conference at Oakland City Hall, where he was joined by 50 community leaders, Harborside patients and other backers. “We will never abandon our patients.”
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a federal court complaint Sunday alleging that the $22 million-a-year medical pot dispensary violates U.S. law prohibiting marijuana distribution. A court notice was posted on Harborside’s door Wednesday announcing asset forfeiture proceedings.
A similar notice was sent to Harborside’s smaller sister dispensary in San Jose.
The complaint is the latest shot in a campaign Haag and other U.S. attorneys have waged since last fall against medical marijuana operations in California. She says any activity that goes beyond small medical marijuana exchanges violates the spirit of the state law that voters passed in 1996 authorizing pot use for medicinal purposes.
Harborside, Haag said in a statement Wednesday, is among “superstores” that violate the spirit of the law.
“The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana law, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need,” Haag said.
The federal complaint filed Sunday makes no mention of the state law, however. It relies on Harborside’s alleged violation of federal drug law in asserting the government’s right to seize the property at 1840 Embarcadero, along the Oakland Estuary.
Ana Chretian owns the property and leases space to Harborside. She is also president of ABC Security, which is on the same plot of land, and her attorney Geoff Spellberg said the federal forfeiture action would shut down her business. ABC employs about 250 people.
“I have no position on the rightfulness or wrongfulness of medical marijuana dispensaries, but the strategy the federal government is employing here is wrong,” Spellberg said. “We’ll be reaching out to the federal government for another solution that is not so contentious.”
Haag spokesman Jack Gillund had no comment on DeAngelo’s resistance or on any timeline for federal action against the dispensary. Harborside was still open and doing business Thursday.
DeAngelo said the only reason his dispensary is so big is that “we do such a good job.” With 108,000 users, who must get a doctor’s certificate to purchase marijuana, Harborside is the biggest medical cannabis operation in the nation.
By offering an array of medical marijuana products authorized under state law, DeAngelo said, “We have deprived street gangs and cartels of hundreds of millions of dollars … created hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and improved safety.”
Among the customers joining DeAngelo on Thursday was Jason David of Modesto, who tearfully explained that Harborside’s cannabis is the only medicine that stemmed the pain and seizures of his 5-year-old son, Jayden, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy.
City Attorney Barbara Parker, a former assistant U.S. attorney, released a statement calling Haag’s action “a tragic waste” of resources better used to crack down on violent crime.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan noted that if Harborside closes, the cash-strapped city will lose $1.1 million in annual taxes from the dispensary, and its more than 100 employees will become unemployed.
article source; http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Oakland-s-Harborside-pot-club-fights-feds-3702632.php#photo-3188931