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City of Berkeley Fights Back Against Federal, Anti-Medical-Marijuana Bullies

The feds won't close Berkeley's largest medical marijuana dispensary without a fight.
 
 
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The City of Berkeley has filed a claim aiming to protect the city's largest medical marijuana dispensary, Berkeley Patients Group, from closure prompted by the federal government. In May, US Attorney Melinda Haag targeted the dispensary's landlord for asset forfeiture, a bullying tactic that has been used regularly in the feds' war on state-sanctioned, legal medical pot programs. Now, Berkeley is fighting back. 

“It is time for the federal government to wake up and stop these asset forfeiture actions,"  Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said in a press release. "Berkeley Patients Group has complied with the rules and caused no problems in the City.  The federal government should not use its scarce resources to harass local law-abiding businesses." 

The Berkeley Patients Group has been legally providing marijuana to patients in the city since 1999, complying with local laws. Nonetheless, Haag said in a statement this May that, "The marijuana industry has caused significant public health and safety problems in rural communities, urban centers and schools in the Northern District of California. Because some believe marijuana has medicinal value, however, we continue to take a measured approach and have only pursued asset forfeiture actions with respect to marijuana retail sales operations very near schools, parks or playgrounds, at the request of local law enforcement, or in one case, because of the sheer size of its distribution operations."

"There are no schools around there," Bates struck back. "It seems to me Attorney General [Eric Holder] has really messed up [going after BPG]...He needs to say 'stop this.'"

On May 21st, the city adopted a resolution opposing the forfeiture on the grounds that Berkeley Patient Group has “contributed significantly to our community, providing good jobs and paying millions of dollars in taxes. They have improved the lives and assisted the end-of-life transitions of thousands of patients.  They have been active supporters of dozens of Berkeley community organizations.” 

On Wednesday, the City filed a claim in US District Court asserting that the closure of Berkeley Patients Group will hurt the city via loss of revenue (including taxes paid by the dispensary), while subverting the City's hard work and resources invested in the control and regulation of medical marijuana, a program intended to treat ailing Berkeley residents. 

“Medical marijuana is legal under California law.  The federal government, against the wishes of the community, is undermining Berkeley’s concerted efforts to control and regulate medical marijuana distribution within its borders.  The U.S Attorney’s action harms patients, the community, and the City -- and benefits no one.   It is pure folly; sadly, it is also deeply destructive folly," Senior Staff Attorney at Drug Policy Alliance, the group representing the City of Berkeley, Tamar Todd said in a press release.

The Berkeley case could be a sign of growing pushback from the localities against whom the federal government has waged marijuana wars. Just over a week ago, the US Conference of Mayors unanimously passed a resolution urging the federal government to leave local marijuana laws alone.  

Kristen Gwynne is an associate editor and drug policy reporter at AlterNet.  Follow her on Twitter: @KristenGwynne