Update on Forfeiture Action Against Harborside Health Center; A Tale of Three Lawsuits

UPDATE: On March 22, 2016, the United States Supreme Court denied review to Oakland's appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision. Read Bonnie's new post about this ongoing saga.


Awhile ago a commercial landlord leased a building in Oakland to Harborside Health Center, a retail marijuana store that for years has distributed medical marijuana legally under California state law but allegedly in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). The CSA lists marijuana as a Schedule I drug, because Congress determined, among other things, that it "has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States."

In early 2012, the U.S. Attorney threatened to bring a forfeiture action under the CSA against the leased premises unless the landlord evicted Harborside. A forfeiture action means the federal government seizes the property from owners and possessors to prevent criminal activity and punish the wrongdoers. But when the landlord promptly filed an unlawful detainer action in state court, the superior court judge refused to allow the eviction. See Landlord Can’t Evict Oakland’s Largest Medical Marijuana Dispensary.

Shortly after that decision denying eviction, the civil forfeiture action against the premises proceeded in federal court; then the City of Oakland tried to halt the forfeiture in a separate, collateral suit, which was lost and appealed to the Ninth Circuit. On August 20, 2015, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the City’s action "because the Government’s decision to file the forfeiture action is committed to agency discretion by law, and because allowing the [City’s] suit to proceed would impermissibly disrupt the existing forfeiture framework."  Here is a link to the opinion. The forfeiture action by the government directly against the premises (United States v Real Prop. & Improvements Located at 1840 Embarcadero,Oakland, Cal., Case No. C 12-3567, N.D. California) is still pending.

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