by Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside
The city of Berkeley sued the federal government on Wednesday in an attempt to stop its efforts to shut down Berkeley Patients Group, the city’s largest medical cannabis dispensary.
The suit claims that the closure of BPG will materially harm the city because it will mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue. In addition, shuttering BPG, which serves 10,000 patients, will result in the proliferation of unpermitted dispensaries and more illegal street sales of marijuana in Berkeley, according to the claim, which was filed in U.S. District Court.
It will also undermine Berkeley’s efforts to create an orderly and permitted process to control the sale and distribution of medical cannabis in the city.
“The claimed property is vital to the safe and affordable distribution of medical cannabis to patients suffering from chronic and acute pain, life threatening and severe illnesses, diseases and injuries within the city of Berkeley, and to the city of Berkeley’s ability to control and regulate medical cannabis within its community,” says the suit. On May 2, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed a forfeiture action against Nahia Droubi, the owner of 2366 San Pablo Ave., the site BPG relocated to in fall 2012. Haag said BPG was operating illegally because it was within 600 feet of two preschools, Color Me Children on Bancroft Avenue and the Nia House Learning Center on Ninth Street. Haag threatened to seize the property under the Controlled Substances Act.
BPG officials said they were surprised at the letter since state law says cannabis businesses have to be 600 feet from K-12 institutions, but are silent on preschools, according to Sean Luse, BPG’s chief operating officer. After being forced to close its previous dispensary at 2747 San Pablo Ave. because it was too close to schools, BPG scoured the city to find a location that complied with the law, said Luse. Haag, however, said she warned Droubi before BPG opened its doors that her office did not consider the location legal.Berkeley officials held a press conference in May to condemn Haag’s actions and continue to suggest she would be better off prosecuting more dangerous criminals.