Federal prosecutors are dropping a case against the U.S.’s oldest medical marijuana dispensary.
The Department of Justice has agreed to dismiss an effort to close California’s Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), which has been operating since 1999, according to representatives of the dispensary.
The case stems from a 2013 attempt by then-U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag to seize the property that BPG is housed on.
After a series of preliminary rulings and appeals in the years since, and a Congressionally-enacted law barring federal prosecutors from interfering with state medical cannabis laws, the feds are finally giving up the case.
“In the end, compassion and sensibility prevailed,” Victor Pinho, BPG’s communications director, told Marijuana.com. “We share this victory with the entire California medical cannabis community and the patients we’ve had the privilege of serving over the past 17 years.”
BPG has enjoyed strong support from local elected officials during its court battle with the federal government. The city itself filed a claim to become a party in the case, though that was denied by a federal judge. But the judge did grant its request for a stay on the seizure of the BPG property while that ruling on standing was appealed, however, allowing the dispensary continue to operate in the meantime.
And last year Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Democrat who represents Berkeley in the U.S. House, introduced legislation to prevent federal law enforcement from seizing property involved in state-legal medical marijuana operations.
That bill never received a hearing or a vote, but for the past two fiscal years supporters were able to attach a broader amendment to separate spending legislation preventing the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws.
In August a federal court ruled — over Justice Department objections — that the provision doesn’t merely block the U.S. government from stopping states from passing their own medical marijuana laws but also prevents federal prosecutors from going after patients and providers who are operating in accordance with those local policies.
But those protections apply only to specific fiscal years and must be reenacted annually. The 2016 fiscal year ended on September 30. Congress has passed a temporary extension keeping the government funded — and the medical marijuana provision in force — until December 9 while House and Senate leaders work out details for Fiscal Year 2017.
If the provision is not included in the final funding bill for next year, federal prosecutors could feel much more emboldened to go after BPG and other medical marijuana providers in the future.
For now, though, the feds are agreeing to drop the action against BPG in exchange for the city of Berkeley dropping its appeal over whether it could join the case.
But the agreement hasn’t been officially signed yet, lawyers for BPG made sure to point out.
“While the U.S. Attorney’s Office has advised the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the City of Berkeley and Berkeley Patients Group that it would dismiss the case with prejudice, it has not yet done so,” Henry Wykowski, an attorney for BPG, said in a statement to Marijuana.com. “The Stipulation of Dismissal that was proposed by the U.S. Attorneys’ Office attempts to impose unfair conditions that might limit the value of the dismissal. These conditions would be contrary to what has already been represented to the Court of Appeals.”
Specifically, BPG and its supporters are concerned that the government wants the dispensary to agree that it can’t use the dismissal of the forfeiture action as evidence in any future cases the government might bring against it, Lara DeCaro, another BPG attorney, said.
She is hopeful that a final agreement can be reached by the end of the month.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.