Oakland Pot Dispensary Ruling Could Curtail Federal Crackdown

Anybody notice that ever since Obama was re-elected, all's been quiet on the federal marijuana crackdown front?

Maybe all those conspiracy theorists who claimed that Obama would move to legalize marijuana during his second term, or at least back away from the crackdown his administration launched in October 2011, were right. 

Not bloody likely. But so far the Justice Department hasn't said a thing in response to voters in Washington State and Colorado who on Nov. 6 passed laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in those two states.

And now there's finally some post-election good news for supporters of medical marijuana in California: a court ruling in Oakland that says landlords can't evict dispensaries who are obeying state medical marijuana laws simply because they are violating federal law.

The case in question is Chretian vs. PMACC/Harborside Heath Center, and the would-be-evicted defendant in question is the nation's largest and most famous marijuana dispensary, whose owner Stephen D'Angelo is a well-known activist/entrepreneur who starred in his own reality show, Weed Wars. The plaintiff, Ana Chretian, like many other landlords in California, was pressured by the federal government to evict Harborside, and complied with that pressure by filing eviction proceedings against D'Angelo in Alameda Superior Court

But in a ruling issued Friday, Nov. 30, Judge Evilio Grillo found that Harborside's lease agreement with Chretian had openly stated that it was a marijuana dispensary and the landlord could not rely on federal law alone to justify an eviction. "This court sees no reason why a private actor should be able to do what a city cannot--i.e., rely on the idea that state law incorporates federal criminal law to compel a state court to enforce that federal law indirectly when it cannot do so directly," Grillo wrote.

Such a ruling, if upheld, could interfere with similar eviction proceedings being undertaken throughout California. Harborside's attorneys certainly see it that way.  "For years, in medical cannabis cases, California state courts such as City of Garden Grove and People v. Tilekooh have followed a principle that cities should not be able to ask a state court to 'indirectly' enforce federal controlled substance laws in a way that disadvantages cannabis patients and caregivers." argues Henry Wykowski, Harborside's San Francisco-based lawyer.  "However, this is the first opinion that extends that principle to private actors, such as landlords."

Harborside's future remains uncertain, however, because the federal government didn't just threaten to seize Chretien's property, it actually did initiate an asset forfeiture proceeding in July. In response, the city of Oakland, which has raked in tax revenue from Harborside for the past few years, filed its own legal actions against that lawsuit, and both Chretien and the landlord of Harborside's other location in San Jose are trying to prevent the dispensary from winning the right to a jury trial to settle the matter. The stage is now set for a crucial Dec. 20 court hearing on all those matters, which will presumably determine the dispensary's future. 

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