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State’s largest dispensary fights federal asset forfeiture

By William Dolphin and Kris Hermes,  Americans for Safe Access

Federal prosecutors moved to seize the property of California’s largest licensed medical cannabis dispensary, the one that was the subject of a popular reality TV series on the Discovery Channel.

US Attorney Melinda Haag’s action against Harborside Health Center (HHC) was denounced by Oakland’s mayor and other local and state elected officials at a City Hall press conference July 12, 2012.

“Harborside has nothing to hide or be ashamed of,” said HHC Executive Director Steve DeAngelo. “We will contest the DOJ action openly and in public, and through all legal means at our disposal. We look forward to our day in court, and are confident that justice is on our side.”

Harborside was served with a federal civil complaint for “forfeiture of property” earlier that week at its locations in Oakland and San Jose. The dispensary has a city permit to operate and has been serving the community since 2006 without incident. The forfeiture action is against the “third-party” property owner, Real Property and Improvements.

Harborside employs over 100 people and is Oakland’s second largest retail taxpayer. Last year, the dispensary paid combined taxes in excess of $3 million, over a million dollars of which went directly to the City of Oakland.

Since the four US attorneys in California announced in October 2011 that they were targeting medical cannabis distribution centers, more than 400 dispensaries in the state have shut down, mostly under threat of federal criminal prosecution or asset forfeiture. Federal prosecutors have sent at least 300 letters to California property owners, threatening action if they don’t evict dispensary tenants.

“The Administration’s claim that it’s not undermining state medical cannabis laws can’t be reconciled with the actions of its prosecutors,” said ASA California Director Don Duncan. “The Attorney General and the President must be held accountable for actions by their US attorneys that are undoing the hard work of elected officials and harming untold numbers of patients.”

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