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Federal Judge Shuts Down Oakland Cannabis Club

MEDICAL MARIJUANA

September-October 1998

On October 19, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative (CBC), California's largest medical marijuana dispensary, closed its doors in compliance with a ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer (Kathleen Kirkwood, "Medical pot club closes doors," Oakland Tribune, October 20, 1998, p. A1; Henry K. Lee, "Oakland Pot Club Closes -- Leader to Fight On," San Francisco Chronicle, October 20, 1998, p. A13; Robert Selna, "Oakland Pot Club Closes Its Doors," San Francisco Examiner, October 20, 1998).

On October 13, Breyer upheld his preliminary injunction to ban cannabis clubs from distributing marijuana (U.S. v. Cannabis Cultivators Club, et al. and Related Cases, Civ. Nos. 98-00085 CRB, 98-00086 CRB, 98-00087 CRB, 98-00088 CRB (N.D. Cal. 1998)) (Mary Curtius, "Closure of Cannabis Club Ordered," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), October 15, 1998, p. A1; V. Dion Haynes, "Judge orders cannabis club closed," Chicago Tribune, sec. 1, p. 10; "Six Medical Marijuana Clubs Ordered Closed. . ." NewsBriefs, May-June 1998, p. 10).

Breyer gave the Oakland CBC a three-day reprieve while it attempted to appeal his decision (Henry K. Lee, "Judge Gives Pot Club a 3-Day Delay," San Francisco Chronicle, October 17, 1998, p. A17). On October 19, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied a request by the club to stay open while it appeals Breyer's decision.

Jeff Jones, Executive Director of the Oakland CBC, said, "We are bitterly disappointed for the voters of the state of California who have had their votes nullified today by the efforts of a heavy-handed and misguided federal government." Oakland CBC had 2,200 patients who use marijuana to combat AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and other serious illnesses. Jones said he started the club because when he was 14 his father died of cancer. (For more information about Jeff Jones, see: Thaai Walker, "The Quiet Crusader," San Francisco Chronicle, September 4, 1998.)

California legalized the possession and use of marijuana for medical use when voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in November 1996. However, the proposition failed to address the question of distribution. Despite Proposition 215, the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, which enabled the federal government to sue to shut down six of California's medical marijuana dispensaries, including the Oakland CBC. Of the six, only clubs in Ukiah and Fairfax remain open, along with a few smaller organizations around the state. Other cannabis clubs have already closed their doors. San Francisco's Cannabis Cultivators Club was closed due to the efforts of California Attorney General Dan Lungren.

The Oakland City Council has steadfastly supported the CBC, even voting on August 13 to designate the club's employees as "officers of the city" (pursuant to 21 U.S.C. 885(d)) to fend off closure efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice. That move was rejected by Judge Breyer on August 31 (Associated Press, "Oakland's Effort to Shield Pot Club Rejected," Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1998, p. A17; "Medical Marijuana," USA Today, September 2, 1998, p. 3A)

Before the CBC closure, Council members Nate Miley and Henry Chang said they would favor having the city distribute medical marijuana if the club were forced to shut down (Kathleen Kirkwood, "City vows ruling won't prevent medical marijuana distribution," Oakland Tribune, October 15, 1998, p. A1, see "Oakland Expands Medical Marijuana Limits, Declares Operators of Buyers Club `Officers of the City,'" NewsBriefs, July-August 1998, p. 25).

On October 20, the City Council on a 5-to-4 vote declared that the city faced a "public health emergency" because hundreds of dying and seriously ill people were being forced to go without their medicine or obtain it on the streets. "What we do tonight will send a powerful message, both here and throughout the state and world," said Council member Miley. Other members who support the CBC did not vote for the declaration because they feared that it would expose the city to federal prosecution (Kathleen Kirkwood, "City Council givers symbolic support to closed cannabis club," Oakland Tribune, October 21, 1998; Thaai Walker, "Oakland Council Declares Marijuana Health Crisis," San Francisco Chronicle, October 21, 1998, p. A15).

In an editorial, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: Breyer's decision "should goose state legislators into creating a system for the legal distribution of pot for sick people." The newspaper said that as soon as Proposition 215 "was passed, state and federal anti-drug zealots began harassing pot distribution clubs until most have closed their doors. . .This reefer foolishness. . .has gone on long enough" (Editorial, "Reefer Foolishness," San Francisco Chronicle, October 16, 1998).

Oakland City Council - Tel: (510) 238-3612, Fax: (510) 238-2228.

Robert Raich, Attorney for the Oakland CBC - 472 Cavour St., Oakland, CA 94618, Tel: (510) 338-0700, E-mail: <raich@jps.net>.