America's biggest, state-legal medical marijuana dispensary appears to have lost some key allies in its existential struggle against the federal government. Faced with a federal forfeiture threat against their properties, the landlords of Harborside Health Center's Oakland and San Jose branches have begun trying to evict the clubs from their homes.
According to court filings reported by Courthouse News Service last week, San Jose landlord Concourse Business Center, LLC "has had ongoing discussions with [tenant] Harborside in an attempt to agree on a date by which Harborside would vacate the property. ... The parties have been unable to reach such an agreement and Harborside has also failed and refused to cease cannabis sales at the property.'"
Concourse Business Center has since filed an unlawful detainer to evict the popular club, as well as made a separate motion to make Harborside stop selling medical cannabis.
Harborside founder Stephen DeAngelo said the Oakland club's landlord, Ana Chretien, also filed an unlawful detainer action in late August to toss out her famous tenants at 1840 Embarcadero. Harborside opened in Oakland in 2006 and rose to become arguably the biggest nonprofit dispensary in the world, with an estimated 100,000 patients and tens of millions of dollars in annual gross sales. Last October, the federal government publicized coordinated enforcement efforts against increasingly bold marijuana businesses.
After a ramp-up that included raiding Oakland's Coffeeshop Blue Sky dispensary and affiliated Oaksterdam University in April and dislodging Berkeley Patients Group from its San Pablo Avenue location in May, US Attorney Melinda Haag filed federal forfeiture complaints in July against both of Harborside's locations.
Concourse Business Center argues in court documents that it thought Harborside was legal when it leased the building, but the federal actions have changed its mind. DeAngelo said Concourse's change of heart is reasonable. The Obama administration has flip-flopped on medical pot enforcement, he noted.
Harborside will seek temporary restraining orders (TROs) to block the evictions, DeAngelo said. Court dates have not been set, he said. The TROs could take months to process, especially given court backlogs.
On October 11, Harborside plans to make a motion in federal court for a preliminary injunction against the federal forfeiture claim, a case that could drag out for years.
Nonetheless, Harborside's locations could be raided at any time. Haag has not responded to Harborside's invitations to tour the facility, DeAngelo said.
But life goes on at the clubs, which are still doing brisk business, offering bags of flowers like Jamaican Lion, Bubba Kush, and Strawberry Cough. Harborside also has started asking members to sign up for its raid response network, write patient testimonials, get involved in representative lobbying, fill out marijuana-effect surveys, and join the club's new delivery service "in the event that we should be prevented from serving patients at this location," DeAngelo said. "We're really trying to pull together the whole movement on this issue," he said.
GDP Collective Is Back
The challenges are clearly mounting for Harborside, but the medical marijuana movement, like the plant itself, is known for surviving harsh climates. For example, on Wednesday, August 29, embattled Richmond dispensary operator Ken Estes announced: "Just in case you haven't heard, The GDP Collective is back!! We are pleased to announce that we are once again open in Richmond at 2924 Hilltop Mall Road. After a long struggle to re-open, we look forward to serving our patients needs with the only the BEST medicinal strains."
That's some pretty great news for Estes and GDP Collective members. The shop was closed down by the City of Richmond in a purge of all city dispensaries beginning in 2010. Richmond's City Council has since changed its mind, and in March decided to permit and tax up to six dispensaries. Green Remedy was the first to open. GDP Collective reopened Wednesday, August 22, with 140 patients on the first day. The second day, "the line was out the door," GDP's manager wrote online.
GDP Collective is the only authorized provider of Ken's GDP, Ken's Kush, and Bay '11 seeds, Estes wrote. These proprietary weed strains have won numerous Cannabis Cup awards, excelling in a flavor profile that's become en vogue around the globe.
Estes — who uses a wheelchair — is a self-described "father, philanthropist, and American entrepreneur." But he hasn't had a smooth ride in the medical marijuana scene. Before his tribulations with the City of Richmond, he faced difficulties operating a dispensary in Berkeley. "I am just a disabled, single father of four children, trying my best to care for my family as well as the patients in my community who are suffering from health afflictions, which as you can imagine, is a challenge in my condition," Estes wrote in an email to Legalization Nation. "We have been in full compliance and cooperation with the city and are happy to be able to serve our patients again. However, nobody is more happy than the patients themselves."
On August 27, marijuana decriminalization initiatives on three state ballots this November — Colorado Amendment 64, Washington Initiative 502, and Oregon Measure 80 — clinched the endorsements of their respective regional chapters of the NAACP. In 2011, the NAACP formally called for an end to the war on drugs, calling it a "complete failure."