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Battle Over Oakland Pot Dispensary Back In Federal Court

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Jars full of medical marijuana at a dispensary. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Jars full of medical marijuana at a dispensary. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

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OAKLAND (KCBS) – The doors of what’s considered the world’s largest medical marijuana dispensary remain open, as lawsuits over its future continue in a federal court.

A federal judge in San Francisco on Thursday considered a U.S. Justice Department bid for dismissal of the lawsuit, in which the city of Oakland is seeking to protect a medical marijuana dispensary.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Elena James heard arguments in her Federal Building courtroom at 10 a.m. on the case concerning the Harborside Health Center, a dispensary believed to have sales of $20 million per year.

Oakland’s lawsuit, filed in October, opposes an earlier suit in which the Justice Department is asking for forfeiture of property leased by Harborside.

The forfeiture case is part of a law enforcement effort in which federal prosecutors in California have been attempting to crack down on dispensaries they consider to be large-scale commercial enterprises.

Oakland claims in its suit that the five-year statute of limitations for a forfeiture case has passed because Harborside has operated in compliance with state and city laws since 2006 without federal interference.

But Justice Department attorneys, in their request for dismissal of Oakland’s complaint, contend the five-year deadline doesn’t apply because Harborside has been continuously selling marijuana in violation of U.S. law.

“The United States has never misrepresented the fact that marijuana distribution, possession, and cultivation remain illegal under federal law,” federal attorneys argued in a brief submitted to James.

Although California’s voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows seriously ill patients to use cannabis with a doctor’s approval, federal laws criminalizing the drug make no exception for state medical marijuana laws.

Oakland’s attorneys contend in a response brief that shuttering Harborside and the three other licensed dispensaries in the city would endanger public health and safety and cost the city $1.4 million per year in tax revenue.

“If Oakland’s medical cannabis dispensaries are shut down, medical patients, including the elderly and disabled, will have no other choice but to seek medical cannabis from street level drug dealers,” the city’s lawyers wrote.

A ruling on the dismissal request was not immediately issued, and it was not clear when it would be issued.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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