Press Conference: Marijuana Dispensary and Berkeley Mayor on Landmark Federal Case

November 2nd, 2016

Press Conference Alert:
Thursday, November 3, 2016, 11:30 AM PST, Steps of Old City Hall: 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley; with Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Darryl Moore, involved attorneys and BPG dispensary executives.


BERKELEY, CA — The dismissal of a civil asset forfeiture case against a California medical cannabis dispensary signals a major shift for federal prosecutors less than one week before voters decide on full legalization under Proposition 64.

A filing by the Northern District of California U.S. Attorney on October 31, 2016 marks the end of an onerous lawsuit that sought to shutter Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), the longest continuously operating medical cannabis dispensary in the country.

Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Darryl Moore, attorneys and executive team members from BPG will hold a brief press conference at 11:30 AM on Thursday, November 4, 2016, on the steps of Old City Hall – 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way – to answer questions about the case.

BPG meticulously operates under all state and city regulations, compelling the City of Berkeley to join the suit in support.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of this case,” said Mayor Bates, “BPG has been an invaluable asset to our community through its service to patients, support to local non-profits, and setting the gold standard for safe access.”

In May 2013, the federal government initiated a forfeiture action against the property leased by the BPG. This was an attempt by then-U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag to close dispensaries across Northern California by seizing the property on which they operated.

“We knew from the very beginning that the outcome of this case would impact the community-at-large. Our activist roots prompted us to stand up to this challenge from the federal government,” says BPG Director Etienne Fontan.

Lara DeCaro, BPG’s outside general counsel, explained that years of effort and professional teamwork went into the tense showdown with the federal government.

“When the forfeiture was filed, most of our peers advised us to walk away; we decided to fight and continue providing safe, reliable access for our patients,” said DeCaro.

The federal government initially attempted to dismiss the action without prejudice, which BPG opposed. Henry Wykowski, BPG’s lead co-counsel for the forfeiture proceeding, successfully represented claimants in the three other dispensary forfeiture actions in the Bay area stressed the importance of the final language in the filing.

“There is no reason BPG should be treated differently than Harborside Health Services,” said Wykowski, “BPG is entitled to a dismissal with prejudice thereby ending this action forever. We would not accept anything less.”

David Tillotson of Flynn Riley Bailey & Pasek, the attorney representing the landowner, was instrumental in achieving this result. Tillotson emphasized that his client was “not willing to bow to federal pressure.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee called the decision, “A victory for health care access.”

“For decades Berkeley Patients Group has helped ensure that members of our community can access their medicine. It’s past time for the federal government to stop standing between these patients and their medicine,” said Congresswoman Lee

BPG has a legacy of being a model medical cannabis dispensary and a best-practice leader in California. The City has twice declared October 31 – the company anniversary – to be “Berkeley Patients Group Day” and BPG is the honored recipient of a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition.

“Compassion and sensibility prevailed,” said Victor Pinho, BPG Communications Director.

“We share this victory with the entire California medical cannabis community and the patients we’ve had the privilege of serving over the past 17 years.

Coming less than a week before California voters decide on Proposition 64, a ballot initiative for full legalization, the dismissal is a clear sign that he regulated cannabis industry, set for exponential growth, will not encounter the same type of federal interference that BPG endured.

Link to court filing and case history:

Located at 2366 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, California the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary is open every day from 9 am to 9 pm.