On May 3rd, the U.S. attorney’s office dropped a lawsuit filed against Harborside Health Center (HHC), the largest dispensary in California; that serves over 100,000 patients annually. This ends the 4-year legal battle that the Oakland dispensary has faced against the federal government.
Harborside is no stranger to litigation with the federal government. Since opening up in 2006, HHC has been the poster child for litigation as the company emerged as the highest grossing dispensary in California with annual revenues exceeding $25 million. In 2012, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag embarked on a witch-hunt trying to oust medical cannabis dispensaries. Haag filed suit to seize the property HHC operated in and later in that year, Haag also filed civil forfeiture action against HHC arguing they were breaking federal drug laws. In October 2012, the city of Oakland sued the federal government to prevent them from seizing HHC’s property. After a 4 year legal stint with both ups and downs, HHC finally got their break when the federal government declared they wouldn’t be using any federal funds to prosecute cannabis businesses operating in states where cannabis is legal. The U.S. attorney’s office has not commented on why the case has been dropped. While Harborside has garnered much attention for being one of the biggest dispensaries in California, a similar lawsuit was dropped last month against North Coast, another medical marijuana dispensary.
This case helps solidify dispensary and patient’s rights to participate in a legal cannabis market without the constant fear of prosecution from the federal government. While many businesses fear a raid and/or prosecution from the federal government, many patients who have a qualifying condition were hesitant to try medical cannabis due to federal prosecution as well. By having the federal case dropped, this is a paramount moment in the cannabis industry as the federal government is allowing states, cities, and localities to be able to create a framework for a legal cannabis market without the interference of the federal government. While this is a step in the right direction, eventually the cannabis will need the federal government to step in and provide federal funding to help build out a national legal framework.