City of Oakland Spars in Court with Feds over Medical Marijuana

Medicine, Science & Truth Against the Federal Government

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — The city of Oakland, engaged in a heated battle with federal authorities over the fate of a large medical marijuana dispensary, argued in court on Thursday that Washington was ignoring science by cracking down on medical marijuana.

The city, in a novel lawsuit ( seeking to block U.S. Officials from forcing the dispensary to close, says the federal government’s own scientists have found medical benefits for pot and have secured a U.S. patent for use of the drug, even as prosecutors have targeted medical cannabis dispensaries.

“In the (federal) government’s world, there is no science,” Cedric Chao, who represents Oakland in the case pro bono, told the judge on Thursday.

The legal fight before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James centers on Harborside Health Center (, an Oakland clinic that bills itself as the world’s largest medical marijuana dispensary and was featured in the Discovery Channel television series “Weed Wars.”

The legal tussle comes amid a growing federal-state battle ( over marijuana that intensified when states in the U.S. West and Northeast liberalized medical pot laws in recent years, setting the stage for voters in Colorado and Washington in November to approve legalizing recreational use of the drug as well.

The federal government, which holds that medical marijuana is illegal and that cannabis is liable to be abused, in July initiated civil forfeiture actions ( against landlords of Harborside for the center’s two properties, in an effort to force the operation to close.

Oakland’s lawsuit (, filed in October, seeks an injunction to halt federal prosecutors’ efforts to shutter Harborside, which will generate an estimated $1.4 million in sales tax revenues for the city this year. It has been rare for any municipality to challenge the federal government over crackdowns on medical pot.


Chao criticized the federal government’s classification of marijuana as an illegal drug without medicinal value.

In court papers filed earlier this month, he cited a 2003 cannabis-related patent obtained by the federal government. He argued the government’s own scientists “continuously discover new benefits” for medical pot and that it has “sought exclusive ownership rights to cannabis compounds.”

That calls into question the government’s efforts to bar groups such as Harborside from selling medical marijuana, he said.

But Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Arvon Perteet argued that federal law takes precedence over the state’s 1996 voter-approved measure allowing medical marijuana, and that the federal government is within its authority to target Harborside.

“They can sell popcorn there, candy,” Perteet told the judge. “They cannot use the property for any illegal purposes.”

Judge James promised to decide as “quickly as possible” whether to allow Harborside to continue to operate while she considers Oakland’s challenge to the federal crackdown. The operation says it has 100,000 patients.

Eighteen states, including California and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.

In response to Colorado and Washington state’s moves to legalize recreational use of cannabis, President Barack Obama last week told ABC News ( that federal authorities have more important priorities than targeting recreational marijuana users in those two states, given limited federal resources.

MMJ Groups Support County Over Fed Demand for Patient Records

Medical Marijuana Groups File Brief in Support of Mendocino’s Refusal to Turn Over Cultivation Records to Feds

Advocates support county's motion to quash, argue Obama Administration is attempting to undermine state law, violate patient privacy
By Americans for Safe Access

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Three medical marijuana groups have teamed up to support Mendocino County officials in their effort to fight a sweeping federal subpoena filed in October, seeking “any and all records” for the county’s medical marijuana cultivation program, otherwise known as County Code 9.31.

On December 21st, Mendocino County filed a motion in San Francisco federal court to quash the Justice Department’s subpoena, and today Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the Emerald Growers Association (EGA), and California NORML filed a joint amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in an attempt to protect the private patient records being sought. A hearing in the case is scheduled for 2pm on January 4th, before federal District Court Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco.

“Despite telling Americans that medical marijuana patients are not being targeted, the Obama Administration’s contempt for them and its intent to undermine California’s medical marijuana law has been laid bare with this subpoena,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who co-authored the amicus brief filed today. “Mendocino County is completely justified in its refusal to cooperate with the grand jury subpoena and we’re proud to support the county officials in that effort.” The amicus brief called the subpoena “needlessly broad” and argued it would have “serious and longstanding repercussions” by “reveal[ing] privileged and confidential medical information…[and] undermin[ing] the County’s considered and thoughtful attempts to regulate medical marijuana pursuant to state law.”

In what has turned into one of the fiercest battlegrounds between California officials and the Obama Administration, the U.S. Justice Department has aggressively gone after one of the only cultivation registration programs in the state. Before the program was shut down in March due to threats of federal injunctions from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, registrants were allowed to collectively grow up to 99 plants and were sold zip ties for $50 per plant to show they were being cultivated in compliance with state law.

The Mendocino cultivation program had been of longstanding interest to the Obama Administration. In 2010, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the legal crop of Joy Greenfield, who was the first cultivator to register with the Sheriff’s Office in the widely popular program that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars of new revenue for the county. No arrests were made in the Greenfield raid, but all of her and her patients’ medicine was destroyed. The DEA then raided the registered farm of Matt Cohen and Northstone Organics in October 2011, destroying medical marijuana that was meant for hundreds of patients across the state.

A federal subpoena for the records of 17 patients held by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) was quashed in 2007, after the Oregon Attorney General successfully defended the OMMP and the privacy rights of patients in federal court. However, last year the Justice Department was successful at obtaining the records of 7 unknown patients from the Michigan Department of Community Health, after State Attorney General Bill Schuette.failed to defend the privacy rights of Michigan patients despite such protections explicitly outlined in state law. California Attorney General Kamala Harris has not yet commented on the federal subpoena in Mendocino County.

“It was not enough for the Justice Department to shut down Mendocino’s cultivation program,” continued Elford. “It seems the federal government will stop at nothing to crush attempts by local officials to regulate the cultivation of medical marijuana.” In a previous statement, coalition partner EGA said that these latest federal actions “undermine and chill the County’s ability to effectively regulate cannabis cultivation,” and “endanger the public health, welfare and safety of Mendocino County residents.”

San Francisco Judge Rules Harborside Can Remain Open

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — A federal magistrate judge ruled Monday that the world’s largest medical-marijuana dispensary, Harborside Health Center, can continue to operate, at least for now, in Oakland and San Jose despite a bid by federal prosecutors to shut it down.

The ruling marks the latest move in a tug-of-war between local and federal authorities over medical marijuana dispensaries and over Harborside Health Center, which was featured on the Discovery Channel reality TV show “Weed Wars.”

Harborside’s landlords are seeking to evict the store under pressure from federal prosecutors as part of the U.S. government’s crackdown on what it deems to be “illegal pot shops” in California and the West.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James ruled that the government, not the landlords, must move to evict Harborside for its alleged violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The landlords “are attempting to use a procedural rule in a civil forfeiture proceeding to bring what amounts to an enforcement action … against Harborside,” the 17-page ruling said. “This is a measure which the Government – the entity charged with enforcing the statute – has elected not to pursue.”

In October, the city of Oakland sued the federal government in an effort to allow Harborside to continue selling marijuana to its 100,000 patients. Oakland officials warned that a shutdown would lead to a “health crisis.”

The city expects to collect $1.4 million in medical-pot sales taxes this year.

“This is a significant victory for the City of Oakland and its 400,000 citizens, for thousands of cannabis patients, and for the Harborside dispensary,” Cedric Chao, a lawyer representing the city pro bono.

“With today’s ruling, we can develop Oakland’s case in a logical way and tee up the federal government’s actions for examination by the federal judiciary,” he said.

Eighteen states, including California, and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana.

But U.S. prosecutors argue that federal law takes precedence over state law and sought to shut down Harborside by trying to seize its landlords’ properties.

The judge will continue to hear both the landlords’ eviction case against Harborside and Oakland’s lawsuit blocking the eviction.

Copyright 2012 Reuters

A Letter to the President: My Husband Is Not the "Bigger Fish"

A Letter to the President: My Husband Is Not the "Bigger Fish to Fry" in Your Drug War

by Molly Davies

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to you as a wife and mother of two young daughters, whose 34-year old husband, Matthew Davies, faces 10 years or more in federal prison for providing medical marijuana to sick people in California (, even though he complied with state law concerning medicinal cannabis. My questions to you are simple:

* What has my husband done that would justify the federal government forcing my young daughters to grow up without a father?

* How can your Administration ignore the will of the California people and prosecute this good, law-abiding man for doing exactly what state law permits?

Mr. President, my husband is not a criminal and shouldn't be treated like one. Matt is not a drug dealer or trafficker. He's not driving around in a fancy car and living in some plush mansion--trust me. My husband is a regular guy, and we're a regular, middle-class family. Yet even though Matt took great pains to follow state and local law, he is currently facing a severe prison sentence. This all seems so surreal.

Last month you told Barbara Walters that federal law enforcement authorities would not go after people in Colorado and Washington for marijuana-related crimes because it makes no sense for the government to "focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal." You said that the federal government has "bigger fish to fry."

If that's true, why are federal prosecutors in Sacramento threatening my husband, Matt, with 10 years to life in federal prison for providing medical marijuana to California patients who are legally allowed to possess and use it? Matt did nothing illegal under our state and local laws. He has no criminal record. He is a hard-working family man and a loving, kind husband and father.

We are confused and absolutely terrified.

I remember when Matt first told me about his hopes of providing medical cannabis to patients. At first, I thought he was crazy. But, we talked about how his grandfather wasted away from cancer and was in so much pain at the end of his life, and how medical marijuana could have helped him. We also talked about how it is perfectly legal in California to use marijuana for medicinal purposes and to provide it to people who have been legally prescribed the medication.

Matt explained to me how he wanted to do things right--to pay taxes, to provide good jobs, and to reduce the price of medicine for patients.

But I was still worried. Even though California has legalized medical marijuana, I was afraid that the federal government could still come after him. Matt had thought this through as well. He showed me an official memo from your Department of Justice saying that the federal government has no interest in prosecuting folks for using and providing medical marijuana so long as they comply with their state's laws. Just like you told Barbara Walters last month, the federal government, it seemed to us, had "bigger fish to fry."

So, Matt moved forward with his plans. To protect his family, Matt spent thousands of dollars on lawyers who would ensure that he complied with every part of state law. When I saw how careful he was, I eventually became comfortable with what Matt was doing. He felt like he was offering a valuable service to people in need, many of whom are vulnerable and terminally ill. Matt truly believed that he was doing a good thing.

And he was. My husband provided medical marijuana to patients for a little over one year. It was not his full-time job--he actually runs a local family-owned restaurant where he manages 30 employees--but it was a second job that he felt quite passionate about. Through his non-profit work, Matt employed dozens of people; all of them paid taxes. All of this was out in the open--he even had business permits from state and local governments. The dispensaries that Matt helped run made it possible for patients to safely and reliably access their legally prescribed medication. Many of them appreciated the fact that they didn't have to try to "hook up" their medication though some drug dealer on the street.

Despite employing dozens of people and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal, state and local taxes and fees, Matt kept his non-profit salary low: he made less than $50,000 total. He obviously didn't do it for the money.

We would have never gone down this road had we thought for a moment that the federal government would prosecute Matt for running a completely above-board operation that is perfectly legal where we live. Nothing is worth Matt's liberty. And I cannot even bear to think of our daughters growing up without their father. This is a nightmare.

Mr. President, I ask you, I beg of you, to convey the position you took on national television last month to your local law enforcement agents. Or, even better, come to Stockton, California and see for yourself. Sit down with Matt and hear our story. My husband is not the "bigger fish to fry." Please drop this case and put an end to our family's nightmare.

Yours with hope and sincerity,

Molly Davies


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