The Department of Justice finally decided to lay down its 4 year long fight against the Californian medical marijuana industry. The federal organization has been on a mission led by Melinda Haag, then US Attorney, to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries. They successfully shut down over 500 dispensaries but Oakland’s Haborside Health Center, which considered to be the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country, stood firm.
The Medical Marijuana Dispensary vs. The DOJ
In a statement released by Harborside, Executive Director Steve DeAngelo said, “When US Attorney Melinda Haag first filed suit to seize the property Harborside is located in, I vowed we would never abandon our patients … and predicted Harborside would outlast the efforts to close us down. Today, thanks to the deep support of our community and our elected officials, and the skill and determination of our legal counsel, that prediction has come true.”
The medical marijuana dispensary, which has locations in both Oakland and San Jose, brings in approximately $25 million a year in sales and was able to hire an exceptional lawyer, Henry Wykoski, to handle the attack from the DOJ. Harborside won several victories in court, allowing them to remain open. They even made an attempt to sue the federal government for trying to shut them down and harm patients in the process.
Slowly Burning Out
Congress passed an amendment in 2014 by Californian Congressmen Sam Farr [D] and Dana Rohrabacher [R] that stops the Justice Department from being able to use any federal funding to pursue medical marijuana programs in states where it has been legalized. This amendment was reauthorized in 2015 and with Haag stepping down as US Attorney, the fight against Harborside seems to have trickled to a halt before officially announcing its end.
Scorning a Crusade
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said “We celebrate the release from federal prosecution. We believe in compassion, we believe in health…. It’s a great day for Oakland and for all of California. The federal government isn’t going to waste tax dollars trying to frustrate the desires of Californians to have safe access to medical cannabis.”
Robert MacCoun, a law professor and drug-policy expert at Stanford University believes that the DOJ’s choice to stop pursuing Harborside, could reveal a “new model” for handling the marijuana industry. He said “The framework is moving from the war on drugs to tricky issues of regulation, taxation, and who is going to be in control of this major new industry.”
At any rate this recent event is great news for the marijuana industry, patients, and taxpayers who don’t want their money spent chasing crusades that ultimately harm sick people. With medical marijuana legal in 24 states and on the brink of becoming legal in several more states this year, this will put lawmakers and new businesses at ease. California, along with other states like Nevada, will vote this November on whether to join Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and D.C. in legalizing recreational marijuana. The DEA has also stated that they will be reviewing marijuana classification, which is currently Schedule 1, meaning it is considered to be one of the most dangerous drugs with no medical benefit. Clearly this out of date classification needs to be reviewed. All of these steps stand for victories for the marijuana industry this year.