Congressional Reps: DOJ acting outside the law in civil suit against dispensary

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- Several California congressional representatives issued a statement this weekend saying the Department of Justice is overstepping its authority in a civil forfeiture case against Oakland's Harborside Health Center.

Harborside says it is one of the nation's largest dispensaries, serving 150,000 registered medical marijuana patients at its Oakland store and in another, smaller branch in San Jose.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed the civil forfeiture suit against Harborside in 2012 as part of a broader effort targeting landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries that prosecutors considered to be large-scale commercial enterprises.

U.S. Reps. Sam Farr, Dana Rohrabacher and Barbara Lee say Haag's suit against Harborside is now in conflict with Public Law 113-235, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for 2015, which prohibits the use of Justice Department funds to block the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. Also known as the Farr-Rohrabacher Amendment, this piece of legislation was signed into law in late 2014.

According to Steve DeAngelo, co-founder and CEO of Harborside Health Center, the federal government is essentially trying evict the dispensary by seizing their lease.

"If they did that, ironically, the federal government would own the lease and have to pay rent to the landlady," DeAngelo said.

DeAngelo and Rohrabacher are both listed as scheduled speakers for this weekend's International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco.

California was one of the first states to pass medical marijuana laws in 1996, but in recent years the focus has shifted to Washington and Colorado due to their passage of recreational use laws.

"California was once and will be the future epicenter of the cannabis industry," DeAngelo said.

"Because our state is large and it's expensive to make political progress, some of the smaller states have been able to leapfrog us," DeAngelo said. "But we are going to pass an adult use law in 2016, and once that happens you'll see the epicenter shift back to California in a very decisive way."