Judge’s ruling allows Berkeley Patients Group to continue operations

Frances Fitzgerald and Logan Goldberg, Daily Californian

A judge ruled Friday that Berkeley Patients Group, a well-known marijuana dispensary, will be allowed to continue its operations while an appeal regarding a federal case against the dispensary is settled.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar means that the federal government’s case against the dispensary will be delayed until the city’s standing in the lawsuit is resolved. The court had previously struck the city of Berkeley from the action on the grounds that it had insufficient interest in the property, but the city appealed.

As the appeal is considered, the judge has agreed to stay the proceedings, meaning the dispensary will continue to operate for an estimated two years while the court determines the city’s standing, according to the dispensary’s lawyer Lara DeCaro.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, who could not reached for comment, filed the suit in May 2013.

“We’re doing things right, we’re compliant, we’re doing everything we can, and we are still being attacked,” DeCaro said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are considered illegal under federal drug laws but have been legalized in certain states.

“(Berkeley) doesn’t want to see the federal government dismantle (its) medical cannabis program,” said Sean Luse, Berkeley Patients Group’s chief operating officer. “This is what the citizens want and need. … It would be a cruel reality if all these people had a medical right to cannabis with a doctor’s prescription and couldn’t get it anywhere.”

Congress passed a spending measure in December curtailing the Department of Justice’s ability to take action against medical marijuana dispensaries in the states that have legalized them. According to Kris Hermes, a spokesperson for the pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, Haag is trying to circumvent this measure by filing a suit against the dispensary’s landlord.

UC Berkeley law professor Robert Berring said the United States rarely takes legal action against these dispensaries when they operate within state law, as is the case with Berkeley Patients Group.

“Attorney General (Eric) Holder has stated that so long as medical marijuana dispensaries do not violate state laws they will let them alone,” Berring said in an email. “Even the Federal Judge who has allowed them to keep operating while the case proceeds asked why the government was pursuing this matter.  It beats me.”

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin called Berkeley Patients Group a “model operator,” noting that it has caused no complaints from neighbors and that they pay all their taxes.

“They are committed to providing safe access to medical cannabis to our residents,” Arreguin said, adding that he was “very pleased” with the ruling.