Berkeley dispensary off the hook after 3 years in litigation

By Kerry Goff | Jan 7, 2017

BERKELEY, Calif. — A recently dismissed lawsuit against Berkeley Patients Group ended a three-year legal battle by the federal government to close Berkeley’s oldest marijuana dispensary.

“In May 2013, then-U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag filed a lawsuit against Nahla Droubi, the landlord of the property where the dispensary operates, threatening to confiscate the land because it is within 1,000 feet of two preschools — a violation of federal law, but not California law,” a Nov. 3, 2016 article in The Daily Californian said.

According to Sean Luse, chief operating officer at BPG when the suit was filed, the suit was a diversion from real issues not related to the Berkeley dispensary.

“There is no legitimate reason to target Berkeley Patients Group,” Luse said in a May 8, 2013 interview with The Daily Californian. “They’re in compliance with state law.”

The dismissal is considered one more sign that the federal government is no longer challenging dispensaries allowed to operate under California law, a Nov. 2 SF Gate article said.

“According to UC Berkeley law professor Robert Berring, Jr., the lawsuit came as part of a series of tactics by the federal government to hinder marijuana dispensaries’ operation,” a Daily Californian article said.

Berring also stressed that BPG has always followed the rules of running a dispensary in Berkeley.

“The strange thing was that they chose to go after Berkeley Patients Group, a dispensary which really has been really above board and tried to follow Berkeley’s rules,” he said.

According to The Daily Californian article, in February 2015, a district judge allowed BPG to continue operations during the law suit. Then in early October 2016, discussions about dismissal with prejudice were put on the table.

“In early October, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and claimants of the case began to discuss a dismissal with prejudice — meaning the dispensary cannot be prosecuted again for the same claims — according to Henry Wykowski, counsel for Berkeley Patients Group,” The Daily Californian article said.

It wasn’t long after the initial discussion that an official dismissal was filed.

“On Oct. 21, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a dismissal without prejudice to the court and without prior warning to the dispensary, Wykowski said,” according to The Daily Californian. “Berkeley Patients Group filed an objection, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed this week to a dismissal with prejudice so long as the dispensary does not sue the U.S. Department of Justice for initiating the lawsuit.”

In the past two years, four federal lawsuits against Bay Area dispensaries had been resolved, with the case against BPG was the last of them, The Daily Californian reported. Berring said that there seemed to be bipartisan concern about whether the law makes sense.

“I would say that this deal is a signal that things are going to get better,” Berring said in The Daily Californian interview.

Victor Pinho, a spokesperson for BPG, said they were relieved the suit has been dismissed once and for all.

“This case has been putting a damper on our ability to serve our patients,” Pinho said in a November 2 interview with SF Gate. “We are happy that it’s over.”

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