By LISA LEFF
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An Oakland medical marijuana dispensary that has been billed as the largest pot shop on the planet has been targeted for closure by federal prosecutors in Northern California, suggesting that a crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry remains well under way.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag has threatened to seize the Oakland property where Harborside Health Center has operated since 2006, as well as its sister shop in San Jose, executive director and co-founder Steve DeAngelo said Wednesday. His employees found court papers announcing asset forfeiture proceedings against Harborside's landlords taped to the doors at the two locations on Tuesday.
Although medical marijuana is legal in California, a federal court complaint that Haag's office filed Sunday says the dispensaries are violating federal law by selling marijuana. It cites a federal law that "makes it unlawful to rent, lease, profit from or make available for use, with or without compensation, a place for the purpose of unlawfully manufacturing, storing, distributing or using a controlled substance, to wit, marijuana," as justification for going after the landlords.
The court action represents an escalation in a months-long, statewide crackdown on medical marijuana by Haag, who said last year that she would try to shut dispensaries that were within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds, which Harborside isn't.
Haag issued a statement Wednesday, saying that while taking action against pot shops operating near children had been her first priority, "marijuana superstores such as Harborside" are now on her radar, as well.
"The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need," she said.
DeAngelo, who was the subject of a Discovery Channel reality TV show called "Weed Wars" last year, vowed to fight the Department of Justice's attempt to put him out of business and called Haag's claim that his shops must be running afoul of the law because of their size "completely absurd." Harborside serves about 100,000 medical marijuana users a year, sells about $20 million worth of pot and marijuana products, and pays $3 million in federal, state and local taxes annually.
"Because of our size, we are able to have the resources that enable us to do things like have an inventory control system that is extremely sophisticated and having five security personnel on duty all the time and 37 security cameras," DeAngelo said. "Just because in the abstract, something larger might tend not to adhere to the law, that is no reason to target Harborside."
City officials in Oakland, which has reaped about $1 million a year in tax revenue from Harborside, are planning to join DeAngelo on Wednesday at a news conference decrying Haag's action. Earlier this year, federal prosecutors and the Internal Revenue Service raided Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana trade school in Oakland, and forced its founder to step aside.