City of Oakland sues feds to save nation’s largest pot shop

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, October 11, 2012 12:55 EDT
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Harborside Health Clinic owner Steve DeAngelo. Photo: Screenshot via YouTube.
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In a landmark first for an American city government, officials in Oakland approved a lawsuit this week in hopes of saving Harborside Health Center, better known as America’s largest pot shop.

The City of Oakland collects more than $1 million in taxes every year from sales at regulated medical marijuana dispensaries; Harborside is the largest among them with more than 100,000 customers. However, Harborside is under threat of being seized by federal authorities after U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag warned that they’re violating federal law.

The nation’s largest pot shop was the subject of a Discovery Channel series called “Weed Wars,” which aired earlier this year. Owner Steve DeAngelo (pictured above) said that the channel canceled the series in March without explanation.

The city’s lawsuit argues that Harborside has been open and operating legally under state and local laws since 2006, which they hope means it’s beyond the law’s five-year statute of limitations on property seizures. City officials also expressed concern that forcing more than 100,000 medical marijuana patients into the black market may have negative effects on public health and safety.

Federal prosecutors have forced hundreds of California medical marijuana dispensaries to close, despite the Obama administration’s promise to avoid prosecuting medical marijuana patients. Instead, attorneys are working with the Internal Revenue Service to apply tax law, which bans business deductions for any illegal trade.

Haag’s office initiated eviction proceedings against Harborside’s landlord under civil seizure laws earlier this year. The shop is also facing a massive tax bill due to years worth of business expense deductions being ruled illegal. Oakland’s “Oaksterdam University” was also tarted in a similar manner, which triggered a SWAT raid in April. Oaksterdam’s founder, who donated millions to California’s failed marijuana legalization initiative in 2010, has since resigned.

President Barack Obama, for his part, clarified in April that he never promised to “give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana,” saying that he cannot nullify laws passed by Congress. Obama added that he does not believe it is a good use of resources to pursue sick and dying patients who use the drug in states where it is legalized.

Just 17 states and Washington D.C. have legalized medical marijuana, even though a Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey found earlier this year that 74 percent of Americans think doctors should be able to recommend the drug.

Photo: Screenshot via YouTube.

Correction: A prior version of this story said the U.S. Attorney’s office was attempting to evict Harborside for a zoning violation. They are attempting to evict the shop by seizing the landlord’s property instead.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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