U.S. to end bid to close major California pot dispensary: lawyers

Reuters News
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Posted: May 03, 2016 11:22 PM

By Jim Christie

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors have agreed to dismiss a four-year-old forfeiture case in northern California aimed at shutting down the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the United States, attorneys for the clinic said on Tuesday.

The deal was reached in talks between the U.S. Attorney's Office for the San Francisco Bay area and the Oakland-based Harborside Health Center, and it is expected to be filed in court in a matter of days, said Henry Wykowski, an attorney for Harborside.

U.S. attorney spokesman Abraham Simmons said his office was not at liberty to comment on the "pending litigation."

Attorneys for Harborside said they believed the settlement signaled an end to a federal crackdown against cannabis dispensaries in states where marijuana has been legalized for medical use, contrary to U.S. law.

They said more than 600 medical pot dispensaries have been shuttered in California alone through civil forfeiture proceedings brought by the U.S. government.

Harborside runs two dispensaries across the bay from San Francisco - its flagship facility in Oakland to the east and a smaller clinic in San Jose at the southern end of the bay.

Federal prosecutors brought civil forfeiture actions in 2012 against both properties, but the dispensaries have remained open pending appeal.

The city of Oakland intervened with a lawsuit challenging the forfeiture actions, but that suit was thrown out last August by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Harborside, which has been featured on the Discovery Channel's reality TV show "Weed Wars," bills its Oakland outlet as the world's biggest medical marijuana dispensary. It ranks as the largest in the United States by sales, posting about $30 million in receipts annually.

Under terms of the settlement, Wykowski said, each side in the court fight has agreed to bear its own attorneys' fees.

Although marijuana remains classified as an illegal narcotic under U.S. law, cannabis has been legalized for medical use in 23 states since California became the first to do so in 1996.

Voters in four states - Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska - plus the District of Columbia have gone further by legalizing pot as a recreational drug for adults. Advocates have pushed for similar referendums this year in a half-dozen other states, including Massachusetts and California.

(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in LOS ANGELES; Editing by Tom Hogue)