DOJ Files Forfeiture Lawsuit Against One of California's Oldest Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Berkeley, CA -- One of California's oldest medical marijuana dispensaries, Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), was served with a lawsuit Friday in an attempt to seize the property in which it operates and to ultimately shut the facility down. In the forfeiture complaint, which is similar to one filed against Oakland's Harborside Health Center last July, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag makes no mention of local or state law violations. Several elected officials have come out in staunch opposition to the Justice Department's legal action and at least four Berkeley City Council members will be speaking alongside medical marijuana advocates at a press conference scheduled for Wednesday at Noon.
What: Press conference with city officials to voice opposition to lawsuit against longstanding Berkeley dispensary BPG
Featuring: Berkeley City Council members Darryl Moore, Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington, and Laurie Capitelli will be joined by advocates, patients and BPG attorneys Lara DeCaro and Henry Wykowski
When: Wednesday, May 8th at Noon
Where: In front of Old City Hall, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley
BPG has been operating in Berkeley since 1999 and, according to a resolution that City Council member Darryl Moore filed Monday, "BPG has served as a national model of the not-for-profit, services-based medical cannabis dispensary." The resolution goes on to state that BPG has "contributed significantly to our local community, providing good jobs and paying millions of dollars in taxes. They have improved the lives and assisted the end-of-life transitions of thousands of patients; been significant donors to dozens of other organizations in our city; [and] shaped local, state and national policies around medical cannabis." The resolution is scheduled to be heard by full City Council on May 21st.

BPG Chief Operations Officer Sean Luse defended his dispensary as a necessary service for the patients of Berkeley. "Berkeley Patients Group intends to vigorously defend the rights of its patients to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, city-licensed dispensary," said Luse. In addition to several city officials who will be speaking later today at the press conference, additional elected officials have also made written statements in support of BPG, including Congressmember Barbara Lee, State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, and Board of Equalization member Betty Yee.

Despite pledges by the Obama Administration to not use Justice Department funds to circumvent state medical marijuana laws, and public proclamations by the President and Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department is only targeting those in violation of state law, this action and other recent legal actions strongly indicate otherwise. After receiving a previous letter from U.S. Attorney Haag in November 2011, BPG reluctantly and at great expense moved its operation in order to stay more than 1,000 feet from a school even though there is no such requirement in local or state law.

"The Obama Administration's ongoing war against patients is despicable and has to stop," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. Sherer will also be speaking at today's press conference. "This lawsuit is not about profiteering or violating state law; it's a mean, vindictive move aimed at shutting down one of the oldest and well-respected dispensaries in the country."

The Justice Department lawsuit comes as Congress is deliberating on a number of medical marijuana bills. One bill in particular, H.R. 689, the "States’ Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act," authored by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and introduced in February, would reclassify marijuana for medical use and allow states to establish production and distribution laws without interference by the federal government. However, even without the passage of H.R. 689, the Obama Administration can still exercise restraint in medical marijuana states, something it has so far refused to do.

Further information:
DOJ asset forfeiture complaint against BPG:
Draft resolution filed by Berkeley Council member Darryl Moore:
Statement from Congressmember Barbara Lee:
Statement from State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano:
Statement from Board of Equalization member Betty Yee:

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