The legal summary below is timeline of events leading up to the dismissal of United States’ federal asset forfeiture case against Berkeley Patients Group and its landlord.
- Berkeley Patients Group opened on October 31, 1999, and immediately operated in harmony with local government and its neighbors.
- On December 7, 2007, then-Special Agent in Charge Javier Pena drafted a series of letters to landlords renting property to medical marijuana dispensaries around California, reminding them that marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (Title 21 US Code) and advising them of the Federal government’s right and intent to prosecute. BPG and its landlord refused to be bullied by the tactic and remained open without incident.
- On November 23, 2011, then-US Attorney Melinda Haag authored a series of letters advising landlords and their lenders that forfeiture proceedings would be imminent should dispensaries on their properties not be evicted. These letters became well known as “landlord letters.” BPG ultimately negotiated to remain at 2747 San Pablo Avenue through March 2012, following publicly issued assurances from Ms. Haag that, should BPG move, BPG would no longer be a target for enforcement purposes. In reliance on Ms. Haag’s comments, BPG secured a previously blighted and dilapidated property, and commenced its total refurbishment with an estimated completion date of December 2012.
- On November 21, 2012, Ms. Melinda Haag authored another landlord letter, this time to BPG’s new landlord at 2366 SPA, objecting to BPG’s location as too close to a school. (However, AUSA Arvon Perteet later admitted in written filings and in open court that BPG is not within a prohibited distance from a school.)
- On May 22, 2013, Ms. Haag filed to take the property under one of the most onerous and defenseless statutes on the books: civil asset forfeiture. Under this law, no crime needs to be established to take the property. Again, BPG elected to fight and progress drug policy reform in Northern California.
- In solidarity with BPG, the landlord, the City of Berkeley, and several qualified patient-members of BPG filed claims to the property in the forfeiture action. Ultimately the patient group and the City were denied standing by the Court, but the City appealed that decision, so the trial court placed a stay on the forfeiture proceedings. On the eve of the City’s hearing on its appeal, the US Congress renewed the Rohrabacher-Farr spending prohibition on Federal interference with a state’s implementation of its medical marijuana laws for the third time.
- The spending limitation had been a key argument of BPG’s attorneys, Lara DeCaro and Henry Wykowski. Shortly after its renewal the Department of Justice conceded and agreed to dismiss the litigation.
- David Tillotson of Flynn Riley Bailey & Pasek was instrumental in achieving this result, representing the property owner who refused to bow under federal pressure.
- The fact that the DOJ could no longer ignore BPG’s arguments illustrates the significant strides we have made in the war against drug policy reform. This case, while not precedent for any case against another medical marijuana provider, underscores that reason and compassion can prevail against all odds.
- It is fitting that this forfeiture is being dismissed on Halloween, the 17th anniversary of BPG’s birth.
Additional Facts About BPG
BPG and its principals have been major supporters of the local community for 17 years. The dispensary contributes to several local organizations including the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, the Berkeley Food and Housing Project, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, and more.
In 2004, BPG worked side-by-side with the Berkeley City Council to establish one of the earliest marijuana permitting programs in the country.
Berkeley City Council declared October 31st to be Berkeley Patients Group Day in 2009 and reissued the proclamation again in 2014. BPG earned a B-Corp certification, which is given to companies that meet comprehensive standards regarding social sustainability and environmental performance. BPG maintains many partnerships with schools, clinics, and social service organizations.
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee presented the dispensary with an official Congressional Proclamation and Rep. Dina Titus (NV) recognized the accomplishments of BPG on the floor of the House. A member of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, BPG has received an “A+” rating from the Better Business Bureau.