Tension Builds Between Local and Federal Officials over DOJ Crackdown on Medical Marijuana
March 16, 2012 | Kris Hermes
Late last year, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag successfully shut down Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM), the oldest operating dispensary in California, by threatening its landlord with asset forfeiture. It didn’t seem to matter that MAMM had the staunch support of Fairfax public official and members of the community. It was, truly, the end of an icon.
Then, news came out this week that the federal government had won in its effort to shut down Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), another historical icon in the medical marijuana community. Despite support from the Chamber of Commerce and its neighbors, BPG and its landlord were targeted by Haag for being too close to two private schools. Notably, teachers from one of the schools Haag is ostensibly trying to “protect” have spoken out in defense of BPG.
While Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates joined the chorus of support for BPG, calling it a “high-class operation,” with “no complaints,” and “compliments from neighbors,” he stopped short of standing up to the federal government. Instead, Bates said in a statement that, “We’re really sorry to see them close up.”
However, no sooner than it was announced that BPG would be shutting its doors, the dispensary refuted the news. In a statement issued on Thursday, BPG Chief Operating Officer said, “BPG is not closing.”
Berkeley Patients Group remains dedicated to providing safe and affordable access to its patient-members, while working to preserve the jobs of its 70+ employees… We have been looking to relocate for several years and look forward to announcing our new site, soon.
Maybe they won’t have to wait for Mayor Bates to grow a spine after all.
In contrast to Berkeley’s trepidation, other Bay Area cities have shown bold leadership on medical marijuana. Both San Francisco and Oakland have recently permitted several new dispensaries. While Haag has been threatening numerous San Francisco landlords, which has resulted in a handful of dispensary closures in the so-called “Sanctuary City,” three new facilities have just been permitted. In Oakland, four new dispensaries were licensed this week, doubling the number facilities in that city.
Cities like San Francisco and Oakland are examples of how to stand up to federal intimidation. We need more local officials to take their lead and develop local laws that recognize the needs of patients in their communities, not the fickle demands of the federal government.