SAN FRANCISCO Score one for U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and the Justice Department in their controversial offensive against medical marijuana dispensaries in the Bay Area.
A federal judge Thursday sided with the feds and dismissed a suit brought by the city of Oakland, which sought to block federal law enforcement from shutting down Harborside Health Center, California's largest marijuana retailer.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James said Oakland, represented pro bono by Morrison & Foerster partner Cedric Chao, lacked standing to challenge the federal forfeiture action because it does not hold an interest in the property.
"The forfeiture proceeding is focused on the defendant property and only those with specific interests in that property are authorized to participate in the proceeding," James wrote in a 10-page decision.
Harborside and its landlords in Oakland and San Jose are opposing forfeiture.
In the suit, Oakland claimed the city had a separate and unique interest in preserving a regulated system for the sale of medical marijuana. Closing dispensaries like Harborside would drive patients to the black market and drain Oakland's coffers of $1.4 million in annual business tax revenues, the suit alleged.
Chao argued last month in opposition to the government's motion to dismiss. No decision has yet been made on whether to appeal, he said.
James called the city's concerns "significant and wide-reaching" but said they could not convey standing.
Moreover, filing a forfeiture suit does not constitute a "final agency action" as defined by the Administrative Procedures Act, because consequences ultimately would lie in the hands of a judge or jury, James ruled.
"At most, the government's conduct merely initiated that process," she stated.
Chao said the decision "leads to an unfair and illogical result."
"It can't be right that Oakland and its 400,000 citizens have no access to the courts," he said. "That just can't be the right answer."