OAKLAND -- The landlord for the city's largest medical marijuana dispensary cannot evict the business just because the federal government has threatened to seize the property for violating federal drug laws, a state court judge has ruled.
Harborside Health Center faced eviction from 1840 Embarcadero after U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag threatened the building's owner, Ana Chretien, with seizure of the property, citing federal drug laws.
The threat came as part of a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, which the federal government says are illegal because marijuana continues to be an illegal controlled substance under federal law.
Faced with federal seizure, Chretien filed an eviction notice in Alameda County Superior Court saying Harborside has violated its lease by violating federal law.
But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled, in a 20-page opinion, that under state law, Harborside was running a legal business and had not violated its lease. Grillo ruled that Chretien could not use the state courts to try to enforce a federal law.
"(State law) does not entitle a landlord to have a state court declare a lease terminated, and order a Sheriff to evict her tenants, based solely on the tenants' use of the property for a purpose that is unlawful under federal controlled substance law but immunized from criminal and quasi-criminal penalty under state law," Grillo wrote in his ruling.
"As with everything that Harborside does, they do it in a manner that complies with state law. They are up front, and they believe in full disclosure and transparency," said Henry Wykowski, Harborside's attorney. "That is why there is no ambiguity as to what they were going to use the property for."
The ruling will result in Harborside staying open until the federal courts decide if Haag has a right to seize the property and attempt to shut down the dispensary. That case is expected to begin next month with a pretrial conference.
Meanwhile, Chretien appears to have no legal recourse as the state court has refused her attempt to evict Harborside.
"Our client is analyzing whether to appeal the order," said Chretien's attorney, Kenneth Katzoff. "As demonstrated by Judge Grillo's lengthy order, this is an area of California law without clear precedent."