BERKELEY, Calif. — About four years ago, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California Melinda Haag filed a lawsuit threatening to confiscate the land owned by Nahla Droubi on which a marijuana dispensary sat and operated, citing a violation of federal law but not California law, because it was located within 1,000 feet of two preschools.
That lawsuit and other similar lawsuits allegedly were filed by the federal government to hamper marijuana dispensaries. The one targeted by this lawsuit involved Berkeley Patients Group. But Berkeley Patients Group and the city of Berkeley turned around and challenged the suit. The city got involved in the litigation process because it collects the dispensary's tax revenues and oversees medical marijuana within its city limits.
However, despite the lawsuit, a district judge ruled that Berkeley Patients Group could continue to function while the case continued through the court system. Eight months later in October 2015, the U.S. attorney's office entered discussions to dismiss the case with prejudice. That meant the dispensary could not be prosecuted again for those same claims, said Henry Wykowski, counsel for Berkeley Patients Group.
But in a twist, the U.S. attorney's office that same month filed a dismissal without prejudice without informing Berkeley Patients Group, Wykowski said. He then filed an objection on behalf of his client. The U.S. attorney's office turned around and agreed to a dismissal with prejudice, but only as long as the dispensary doesn't file suit against the U.S. Department of Justice.
"My client is happy to be done," Wykowski told The Northern California Record. "I think it was a misguided action taken by the department of justice to impede the progress of medical cannabis."
Berkeley Patients Group Chief Operations Officer Sean Luse said in a news release during court proceedings that the dispensary was a "necessary service" for patients.
"Berkeley Patients Group intends to vigorously defend the rights of its patients to be able to obtain medical cannabis from a responsible, city-licensed dispensary,” Luse said.
During the legal process, many of Berkeley's government officials publicly supported Berkeley Patients Group.
"The medical use of marijuana is legal under California law, but not federal law," Wykowski said. "The federal government has tried a number of strategies to inhibit the progress of cannabis both for medical purposes and for adult recreational use, which have been unsuccessful."
Wykowski also said that the federal government needs to "wake up and recognize that they're living in a different world."
"It's unfortunate that the federal government isn't providing leadership toward accomplishing making cannabis legalized and letting it exist on a state-by-state basis," he said.
As one of California's oldest dispensaries, Berkeley Patient Group has been operating in Berkeley since 1999. But this case wasn't the first time the federal government targeted the business. In 2011, Haag sent a letter demanding that the business move in order to be in accordance with federal law requiring a dispensary to be more than 1,000 feet away from a school.