It’s the first federal court hearing of its kind, carrying national implications over landlord rights and pot.
The U.S. government is trying to shut down the Oakland-based Harborside Health Center – the largest medical marijuana dispensary in the country - arguing that its landlord must evict the cannabis club because selling marijuana is illegal.
Chief Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James heard three motions on Thursday in a courtroom closed to cameras: Two from Harborside's landlords asking the feds to make the club stop selling pot, and one from the city of Oakland asking the feds to stay those motions while it fights the federal government's forfeiture action. The arguments were over whether the club could operate while the forfeiture actions move through the courts.
Attorneys for the city of Oakland filed a lawsuit in October to get the federal government to stop pursuing the forfeiture action against Harborside.
By the end of the day, James did not indicate when she would rule, but said it would be soon. She told the courtroom that she fully comprehended the weight of the case.
Before the hearing ended, Harborside's executive director Steve DeAngelo spoke to NBC Bay Area.
"We invited (U.S. Attorney) Melinda Haag to come to Harborside to tour to take a look at the way we do things," DeAngelo said. "Because I think the federal government should be studying Harborside not trying to close us down. We’ve developed a great model for responsible and legitimate distribution of cannabis."During Thursday’s hearing, Oakland leaders asked the judge to stay the landlords’ motions and first hear the city’s case against the U.S. government. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other city leaders have continued to back up Harborside, citing concerns with the impact to the tens of thousands people who depend on the dispensary. Moreover, the cash-strapped city gets about $1.4 million in taxes from Harborside alone each year.
Haag has taken the lead on ousting the cannabis club. She has called Harborside a “superstore” for medical marijuana, an operation that’s so big, Haag said it could abuse the state law passed in 1996 legalizing medical marijuana.
Harborside spokeswoman Gaynell Rogers said in a phone interview that she doesn't know how the case will play out, but added the Bay Area case will have national implications for what happens in states like Colorado, Washington and Montana.