Last month, a California judge rejected a landlord’s move to evict the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary for engaging in a business that is legal under state law. Now, a federal judge has also barred the landlord’s attempt to halt the dispensary’s operations.
In the ongoing federal-local battle over state laws that legalize medical marijuana, the court ruling is the latest victory for Harborside Health Center, a 100-plus-employee operation that Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker has praised for providing “access to safe, affordable and effective medicine.” While the Obama administration initially said it would not target medical marijuana dispensaries in compliance with state law, it has since fluctuated on this position, and pursued increasingly vigorous crackdowns. To shut down Harborside, the federal government filed a civil action to seize the Oakland and San Jose, Calif. properties Harborside leases for its dispensaries. The owners of the two properties attempted to skirt the federal case by moving to evict Harborside or cease its marijuana distribution. One county judge rejected the move, while another has allowed eviction proceedings to move forward. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James held Monday that the federal Controlled Substances Act cannot be enforced by private parties like these landlords:
As Harborside points out, courts have consistently held that there is no private right of action under the CSA to force compliance. […]
Moreover, while the Court understands Claimants’ concern over the potential forfeiture of their properties, Rule G(7)(a) is not a means to sever business relationships when they suddenly prove risky or to demonstrate cooperation with the Government.
The landlords and the Department of Justice will now litigate between themselves over the move to seize the properties where Harborside is housed. The city of Oakland also filed an unprecedented, affirmative lawsuit to halt federal government crackdowns of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. The city alleges that the federal government exceeded its authority with its civil forfeiture action by acting contrary to earlier statements and actions that indicated it would not crack down on those dispensaries in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, now in 18 states.
The litigation raises the question of how the federal government will handle Washington and Colorado’s new laws to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. In the first comment on the measures, President Obama said recreational users are not a “high priority.” He did not, however, refer to marijuana sellers and suppliers, which would be the likely subjects of any federal crackdown.
In the wake of the crackdown, landlords have been unwilling to rent to several other dispensaries that were approved for operation in Oakland.