Berkeley City Council resolution proposes support for medical marijuana lawsuit

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Berkeley City Council will vote on a resolution Tuesday to support a lawsuit filed by the city of Oakland against the U.S. Department of Justice’s attempted seizure of Harborside Health Center, the largest medical marijuana dispensary in California.

The lawsuit, which claims that the federal government has overstepped its jurisdiction in attempting to close medical marijuana dispensaries that comply with state regulations, was filed by Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker on Oct. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington’s recommendation asks the City Council to support Oakland’s lawsuit and offer legal support, which could include filing a friend of the court brief later in the case.

If the Department of Justice overturns Oakland’s lawsuit, there may be broader attacks on other cities in the future, Worthington said.

“If we don’t support Oakland, who knows when they will be coming to get Berkeley,” he said.

Such opposition by city governments toward federal laws is unprecedented, said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group for medical marijuana patients. Elford speculates that, if passed, Berkeley’s support for Oakland’s case is unlikely to have any significant legal implications but should nonetheless be applauded for its symbolic significance.

“This legal action demonstrates that localities that support safe and legal access to medical marijuana can make a difference in this struggle with the federal government,” he said.

Since the federal government announced a statewide effort to enforce regulations on the marijuana industry throughout California last year, more than 400 cannabis dispensaries have been shut down across the state, according to ASA.

Charlie Pappas, a member of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Commission, supports Oakland’s lawsuit and Worthington’s resolution but said city officials should have taken action against the federal government’s threats a long time ago.

Pappas’ San Francisco dispensary, The Divinity Tree, closed late last year after receiving a letter from the federal government.

“No one did anything until the ‘big guys’ started to get hit,” Pappas said.

Worthington agrees that opposition to the Department of Justice’s activities is overdue.

“We should have been speaking up earlier,” he said.

Although Oakland’s lawsuit is the first major action from local officials taken in opposition to the U.S. Department of Justice’s crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, the issue has risen to the attention of congressional and state officials as well.

Following voters’ approval of the legal use of marijuana in Colorado and Washington during last week’s national election, Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the federal government needs to respect state’s rights to decide how to regulate marijuana use.

“It’s time for the Justice Department to recognize the sovereignty of the states,” Brown said in the interview.

Contact Alex Berryhill at [email protected]

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