Berkeley fights feds’ attempts to close cannabis business

Berkeley Patients Group opened its doors at 2366 San Pablo Avenue in December 2012. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Berkeley Patients Group opened its doors at 2366 San Pablo Avenue in December 2012. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The city of Berkeley filed a claim Wednesday to stop the federal government’s attempts to shut down Berkeley Patients Group, the city’s largest medical cannabis dispensary.

The suit claims that the closure of BPG will materially harm the city because it will mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue. In addition, shuttering BPG, which serves 10,000 patients, will result in the proliferation of unpermitted dispensaries and more illegal street sales of marijuana in Berkeley, according to the claim, which was filed in U.S. District Court.

It will also undermine Berkeley’s efforts to create an orderly and permitted process to control the sale and distribution of medical cannabis in the city.

“The claimed property is vital to the safe and affordable distribution of medical cannabis to patients suffering from chronic and acute pain, life threatening and severe illnesses, diseases and injuries within the city of Berkeley, and to the city of Berkeley’s ability to control and regulate medical cannabis within its community,” reads the suit.

On May 2, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a forfeiture action against Nahia

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Photo: Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. Photo: Department of Justice

Droubi, the owner of 2366 San Pablo Avenue, the site BPG relocated to in the fall of 2012. Haag said BPG was operating illegally because it was within 600 feet of two preschools, Color Me Children on Bancroft Avenue and the Nia House Learning Center on Ninth Street. Haag threatened to seize the property under the Controlled Substances Act.

BPG officials said they were surprised at the letter since state law say cannabis businesses have to be 600 feet from K-12 institutions, but are silent on preschools, according to Sean Luse, BPG’s chief operating officer. After being forced to close its previous dispensary at 2747 San Pablo Avenue because it was too close to schools, BPG scoured the city to find a location that complied with the law, said Luse.

Haag, however, said she warned Droubi before BPG opened its doors that her office did not consider the location legal.

Berkeley officials held a press conference in May to condem Haag’s actions and continue to suggest she would be better off prosecuting more dangerous criminals.

“It is time for the federal government to wake up and stop these asset forfeiture actions,” Mayor Tom Bates said in a press release. “Berkeley Patients Group has complied with the rules and caused no problems in the City.  The federal government should not use its scarce resources to harass local law-abiding businesses.”

Both Berkeley and BPG can fight Haag’s suit against Droubi because the forfeiture law “allows a proces for other parties who have an interest in the property to file a claim,” according to Tamar Todd, an attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, which filed the lawsuit on Berkeley’s behalf. The organization, which advocates for fighting drug abuse through treatments rather than criminalization, is doing work for Berkeley pro bono. Berkeley residents are not paying for the suit.

This is the second time a city has stepped in to fight the closure of a medical cannabis dispensary. Oakland used a different legal tactic in the forfeiture case against Harborside Health Center, but that was rejected by a U.S. Magistrate in February, said Todd. In that case, Oakland filed a separate lawsuit to try and stop the federal government’s actions rather than joining with Harborside and its landlord, she said. Oakland is appealing that ruling.

See a copy of Berkeley’s lawsuit.

Note: This article has been corrected to say that Berkeley filed a claim to stop the forfeiture action brought by the federal government to shut down BPG. Previously the article stated that Berkeley filed a suit against the government. Berkeley joined those fighting the forfeiture action; it did not file a separate lawsuit.  

Related:
Berkeley Patients Group pays fraction of tax bill [06.17.12]
Officials oppose Fed’s suit to shut dispensary [05.18.13]
Berkeley Patients Group finds new home on San Pablo [09.13.12]
Berkeley Patients Group earned $15m in 2009
 [06.20.12]
Sadness surrounds closing of Berkeley Patients Group [05.01.12]
Berkeley’s largest cannabis dispensary to close May 1 
[3.15.12]
Berkeley cannabis lawsuit reveals bitter infighting [7.18.11]
Berkeley Patients Group owes $6.4 million in back taxes [2.24.11]

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  • GO AWAY TOM

    You are banned. Stop posting.

  • guest

    >hating Tom Bates this much

  • guest

    If you were betting 5-10 years of your life, whose idea of what’s legal would you trust?

  • LORD NOT BATES

    Wrong Tom.

  • SickOfIt

    We make less money from taxing weed than we pay Phil Kamlarz to be retired.

    http://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/11/30/berkeley-city-manager-phil-kamlarz-the-exit-interview/

  • Chris J

    Sigh…medical cannabis groups are generally pretty bogus IMHO. That being said. I don’t particularly give a damn, either. Cannabis or alcohol, both can be abused. Deal with criminals, not these skirt-the-law dispensaries. Legalize it so the locals and Feds can get their taxes, or simply decriminalize it.

  • guest

    Agreed. The Indians got gambling and casinos. Give the Blacks legalized cannabis. Run it clean. Use the money to educate and elevate our Brothers.

  • Truth Sayer

    You stated that the feds shouldn’t “harass local law-abiding businesses.” According to Federal laws, which trump state and local laws, possession, growing, and distribution of cannabisg is illegal. Therefore, in all truthfulness, they were not law abiding businesses. I anticipate that you are going to dance around the truth, but is there anyone out there who can be truthful about this? and say, OK, its illegal, but the law is wrong. Anything but these continuous ongoing misrepresentations of the truth. As I firmly believe that a partial lie is nothing but a lie; a little white lie is still a lie; and avoiding the truth is a lie. FYI: I have no issue with growing, selling, and distributing cannabis in commercial areas as long as it is monitored and governed by laws. But lets please be truthful.

    .

  • Truth Sayer

    Isn’t it true that to be considered a non-profit, you must have filed for non-profit status 501c and fill each year using form 990?

  • Halcyon Walker

    Hats off to City of Berkeley….this is pure harassment!

  • Chris Gilbert

    Could Haig go after the big banks that have not been prosecuted for laundering drug cartel money? Maybe that would be a better use of her time.

  • Sick People Need Help

    Americas entire Civil War on Drugs and its own people is a shameful disgrace. To think we need a “Cotton Mather” on the job hunting down Cannabis Dispensaries is so unbelievably archaic. I have a hard time understanding people who think they know what is best for others who are sick or ill. I can only say Cannabis and its use will long outlast her, and every other ignorant person that thinks they, and Big Pharmaceutical Companies are all the ” Good People “, of America need regardless of what they, the people, may want.

  • Pádraig Pearse

    Haag is a worthless, lowlife, tyrannical C*NT.