Controversial US Attorney Melinda Haag announced that she will step down on September 1, thereby bringing an end to one of the most aggressive campaigns against the medical cannabis industry since California voters legalized the drug in 1996. During her tenure, which began in 2011 when President Barack Obama appointed her to the western coastal district, she successfully shuttered more than six hundred medical cannabis dispensaries that were compliant with state law.
Haag also targeted dispensaries whose owners had long histories of medical cannabis advocacy, such as the Berkeley’s Patients Group, which is one of the first state-legal dispensaries and was co-founded by dedicated activist Debby Goldsberry. Haag also sought a civil forfeiture case against Harborside Health Center, which is considered a national model for a well-run and tasteful dispensary that includes a variety of health services besides offering medical cannabis.
Harborside owner Steve DeAngelo fought the closure and won a number of state and federal court injunctions against Haag, which have allowed his dispensary to continue to operate. Coming to his aide, the City of Oakland filed suit against Haag and the Department of Justice to block Haag’s seemingly arbitrary attempt to close Harborside. In addition, Congress passed the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, which prevents the DOJ from spending taxpayer funds to interfere with state-sanctioned cannabis laws. Haag has scoffed at both Oakland and Congress as she continued to press her case against the Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside.
DeAngelo said in a press release that he was confident that Harborside would survive Haag’s reign. “I vowed that Harborside would never abandon our patients and we have been battling Ms. Haag in federal court ever since,” DeAngelo said. “I always believed Harborside would outlast Ms. Haag, so hearing that she is stepping down gives us great relief and great satisfaction.”
Haag’s departure coincides with a number of state Assembly bills that seek to regulate various aspects of the medical cannabis industry as well as normalize revenue policies. California voters are also likely to consider at least one ballot initiative in 2016 that would legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of cannabis.
As the American public becomes more accepting to cannabis, and particularly the medical use of it, Haag’s hardline approach has become an increasingly archaic and ineffective mode of law enforcement associated with the extremely expensive, destructive, and failed war on drugs, said several Bay Area medical cannabis activists upon hearing of her departure.
Corrections: The original version of this blogpost included the wrong byline. Also, the original version misstated Debby Goldsberry's relationship to Berkeley Patients Group. She co-founded BPG, but was no longer involved with it when it was targeted by Melinda Haag.