BERKELEY, CA — One of California’s oldest medical marijuana dispensaries, Berkeley Patients Group, was served with a lawsuit last week in an attempt to seize the property in which it operates and to ultimately shut the facility down.
In the forfeiture complaint, which is similar to one filed against Oakland’s Harborside Health Center last July, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag makes no mention of local or state law violations. Several elected officials have come out in staunch opposition to the Justice Department’s legal action.
Berkeley Patients Group has been operating in Berkeley since 1999 and, according to a resolution that City Council member Darryl Moore filed Monday, “Berkeley Patients Group has served as a national model of the not-for-profit, services-based medical cannabis dispensary.”
The resolution goes on to state that Berkeley Patients Group has “contributed significantly to our local community, providing good jobs and paying millions of dollars in taxes. They have improved the lives and assisted the end-of-life transitions of thousands of patients; been significant donors to dozens of other organizations in our city; [and] shaped local, state and national policies around medical cannabis.”
The resolution is scheduled to be heard by full City Council on May 21st.
Berkeley Patients Group Chief Operations Officer Sean Luse defended his dispensary as a necessary service for the patients of Berkeley.
“Berkeley Patients Group intends to vigorously defend the rights of its patients to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, city-licensed dispensary,” said Luse.
Additional elected officials have also made written statements in support of Berkeley Patients Group , including Congresswomen Barbara Lee, State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee.
Despite pledges by the Obama Administration to not use Justice Department funds to circumvent state medical marijuana laws, and public proclamations by the President and Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department is only targeting those in violation of state law, this action and other recent legal actions strongly indicate otherwise.
After receiving a previous letter from U.S. Attorney Haag in November 2011, Berkeley Patients Group reluctantly and at great expense moved its operation in order to stay more than 1,000 feet from a school even though there is no such requirement in local or state law.
“The Obama Administration’s ongoing war against patients is despicable and has to stop,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country’s leading medical marijuana advocacy group. Sherer will also be speaking at today’s press conference. “This lawsuit is not about profiteering or violating state law; it’s a mean, vindictive move aimed at shutting down one of the oldest and well-respected dispensaries in the country.”
The Justice Department lawsuit comes as Congress is deliberating on a number of medical marijuana bills.
One bill in particular, H.R. 689, the “States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act,” authored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and introduced in February, would reclassify marijuana for medical use and allow states to establish production and distribution laws without interference by the federal government.
However, even without the passage of H.R. 689, the Obama Administration can still exercise restraint in medical marijuana states, something it has so far refused to do.
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