Harborside Health Center Fights Feds To Remain Open
Talk about Weed Wars, man. In early July the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the nation, The Harborside Health Center, discovered a disturbing message from the DEA taped to the doors of both their Oakland and San Jose, California locations—a notice threatening property forfeiture.
“On July 10th, I was heading to the beach on my day off when I received a text from my manager about the notice,” says Morgan, Marketing/Web Coordinator at the Harborside Health Center in Oakland. “I remember feeling immediately anxious. My whole day was ruined, I felt like I was completely emerged in anxiety and angst. I slept maybe three hours that night.”
The attack against Morgan’s employer originated back in October of last year when four rogue US attorneys in California announced actions targeting the sale, distribution and cultivation of marijuana. Initially the owners and landlords of at least 16 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state received threatening letters warning they would face criminal charges and confiscation of their property if they did not shut down in 45 days. The feds claimed that federal law “takes precedence over state law.” And that “Under United States law, a dispensary’s operations involving sales and distribution of marijuana are illegal and subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions. Real and personal property involved in such operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States regardless of the purported purpose of the dispensary.”
“When I returned to work (the day after the threatening letter appeared) things were very busy and scary. For the next month I lost a ton of sleep, cried a lot, had panic attacks and missed out on really taking care of myself,” said Morgan.
Taking care of people has been the Harborside’s mission since they originated. Along with offering a variety of medicine the Harborside also offers a range of free holistic healing services, including hypnotherapy, yoga, and acupuncture. They also offer cultivation courses, substance abuse counseling, a robust patient activist resource center and many other benefits. These benefits have remained in place since Executive Director Stephen DeAngelo and his business partner Dave Wedding Dress signed a five-year lease agreement in 2006, recently renewed in January 2011, that “expressly authorized the Harborside to use the premises to operate a medical marijuana dispensary.”
Despite giving written consent to run a marijuana dispensary, by August 3 the Harborside’s Oakland landlord, Ana Chretien, caved to federal pressure and filed an unlawful retainer lawsuit to evict the dispensary. Her allegation? The Harborside violated its lease by conducting illegal activity that constituted a nuisance.
In early December an Alameda County Superior Court judge, Evelio Grillo, denied her eviction attempt ruling that a state court cannot deem a medical marijuana dispensary a “nuisance” because they’re protected under state law. “Federal law can’t be used to evict or otherwise shut down a state-legal operation,” Grillo said. To do so “would be to improperly enforce federal criminal law,” he wrote.
For now the Harborside remains open for business, which means it’s more than 100,000 patients have access to medicine and the collective’s 84 full-time employees remain employed.
“I have been here almost three years now; it’s like a second home to me. My coworkers are like my second family. I was very pleased with how well we all stuck together and supported each other in the midst of federal threats, says Morgan.
But, this doesn’t mean the Harborside’s struggle to remain open is finished. Sure, a judge ruled in favor of the Harborside this time around, but last month a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of their San Jose landlord allowing eviction proceedings to continue. Friday in a U.S. District Courthouse in San Francisco a federal judge heard US Attorney Melinda Haag outline the government’s case for taking Chretien’s $2 million Oakland property.
“Today’s hearing before Judge Maria-Elena James went very well. No ruling yet, but the judge seemed fair-minded and was very well versed in all the facts and arguments of the case. I have a very good feeling moving forward,” announced Executive Director Steve DeAngelo.
Judge James has not set a date as to when she might issue her ruling on the eviction proceedings. “As for my future, I do worry,” says Morgan. “I picture myself working at Harborside until I finish college with my doctorate. If something were to happen, I couldn’t imagine losing my job and going back to waiting tables. Harborside treats me well, works with my school schedule and allows me to grow within the company. Jobs like this are hard to come by for a student in this economy.”
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