Earlier this month, President Obama told ABC News his administration has "bigger fish to fry" than going after marijuana users, but the U.S. attorney in Northern California is cracking down on a local dispensary and the case was heard Thursday in federal court.
Harborside Health Center is the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the nation. It has two facilities: One in San Jose and their main operation in Oakland. Together, they serve more than 100,000 patients. "We are 100 percent compliant with California law. The city supports us. The community supports us. It's only the federal government who thinks something's wrong with what we're doing," says Steve DeAngelo at Harborside.
The federal government is trying to shut down the dispensaries by going after Harborside's landlords, threatening to seize their property if they continue to allow marijuana sales in violation of federal law. In court Thursday, the assistant U.S. attorney said, "They can sell popcorn there. They can sell candy there. But they cannot use the property for any illegal purpose." As a result, the landlords are asking the judge to force the dispensaries to stop immediately.
The attorney for the Oakland landlord says his client feels she has no choice. "It's a serious issue. It's a forfeiture action. She could lose the building," attorney Arthur Hartinger said. Harborside has rented the Oakland property for six years.
City officials feel the federal crackdown comes too late in the game. Oakland is taking the unprecedented step of suing, saying the feds had promised to leave dispensaries alone as long as they're obeying state and local laws. "What they're trying to do is, 'We're going to shut down dispensaries and all you patients, too bad, tough luck. You believed us, too bad,'" Oakland legal counsel Cedric Chao says.
"It's not right. It's just not right. It's like taking away Walgreens. I compare it to that," Harborside patient Cindy Smith says.
All sides praised the judge, Chief Magistrate Maria-Elena James. She took all the issues under advisement. In the meantime, Harborside continues to operate.