In what may be remembered as the last great battle for California’s medical cannabis industry prior to election night, efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to seize the lot holding America’s oldest cannabis dispensary have been dismissed with prejudice. Representatives of Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) gathered for a press conference in front of City Hall Thursday to celebrate the legal victory.
Since 2011, BPG, with the support of the city of Berkeley, had waged back to back legal battles with the DOJ in regards to their previous and current locations. Then-Northern California U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag had a special spot in her heart for some of the nation’s most reputable providers, taking actions against many Bay Area dispensaries that were considered model businesses for the emerging industry to look towards. A filing by the Northern District of California U.S. Attorney on Oct. 31, 2016 marks the end of the last lawsuit that sought to close the doors at BPG.
“We stood up to the bully tactic of civil asset forfeiture and we hope that after today, on the eve of full legalization, that regulated marijuana never again faces this kind of conflict,” said BPG Chief Operating Officer Sean Luse. “I hope this case can be an example for anyone who has to go head to head with the federal government to not get discouraged, champion what you know is right, and never give up.”
From the beginning, elected officials from Berkeley to Washington D.C. stood with the dispensary. Support from Congresswoman Barbara Boxer, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, and various members of the city council proved BPG to be one of the most beloved cannabis facilities in the nation. Councilmember Darryl Moore, who represents the district BPG is in, spoke at Thursday’s press conference.
“I’m honored to have BPG in my district. Finally, this fraudulent lawsuit by our federal government is over. Now people that need their medicine, will not live with the fear of the government shutting down an establishment providing to those needing medical cannabis,” said Moore.
The defense was lead by top shelf California cannabis attorney Henry Wykowski and BPG’s Outside General Lara DeCaro. While Wykowski has seen much of the spotlight around the tax and banking issues created Section 280E in the tax code, he has also gone undefeated in four attempts by the DOJ to seize Northern California properties that are home to dispensaries. DeCaro has also been involved in the battle since the DOJ began their letter writing campaign.
“When the forfeiture was filed, most of our peers advised us to walk away; we decided to fight and continue providing safe, reliable access for our patients,” said DeCaro.
Many believe the book has closed on this chapter for BPG at the perfect time, not only receiving word of the dismissal on their 17th anniversary, but also within just a week of California’s Proposition 64 vote which would legalize adult use.
“My hope is election night is a watershed moment. We’re likely to see all nine initiatives across the U.S. pass. I’m hoping that will reverberate with folks in Washington D.C.,” said Luse.
While this victory is one of the largest feathers the good guys have been able to put in their cap, there is still plenty of work to be done, and another major case on the horizon with Harborside’s tax battle.
“If we knock 280E out of the box, we’ll lose one of the biggest problems we have. Getting rid of 280E will help us a lot in dealing with the tax situation,” said Wykowski.
What do you think? Is the war on marijuana almost over?