Oakland's latest round in its campaign to save the nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary includes a statement this week from Mayor Jean Quan saying federal prosecutors should back off, and the federal government's own patent application lauding the therapeutic qualities of cannabis.
In papers filed late Tuesday with the magistrate who is considering the fate of the Harborside Health Center, lawyers for Oakland said patent and research records reveal that "the government believes in the medical efficacy of cannabis" - contrary to the Justice Department's insistence that marijuana is a dangerous drug with no legitimate use.
Cedric Chao, a lawyer for the city, cited a 2003 patent application by the U.S. government that said cannabis compounds are "useful in the treatment and prophylaxis (prevention) of a wide variety of oxidation-associated diseases," including certain types of strokes and immune-system disorders.
Chao quoted another patent application, by two government scientists in 2009, that referred to the "healing properties of Cannabis sativa," or marijuana, that have been "known throughout documented history."
"How can the government credibly deny the benefits of medical cannabis when the government itself is funding cutting-edge research proving the medical benefits of cannabis and seeking patents based on such research?" Chao wrote.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag filed suit in July seeking the closure of Harborside and the forfeiture of its offices at 1840 Embarcadero. She said the dispensary, which supplies marijuana to 108,000 patients, is violating federal drug laws.
On Dec. 20, U.S. Magistrate Maria Elena James is scheduled to consider a request by the building's owner, Ana Chretien, to shut down the dispensary and Oakland's request to put Chretien's motion on hold until James rules on the city's challenge to the government's suit. Oakland claims the federal statute of limitations required the government to seek forfeiture no later than 2011, five years after Harborside opened.
The city, which collects $1.4 million a year in business taxes from Harborside and other licensed dispensaries, submitted a sworn statement issued Tuesday by Quan in support of its case. She said Oakland adopted a permit system for medical marijuana suppliers after being told by federal officials that they would allow operation of facilities that complied with state and local laws.
If the federal government shuts down the dispensaries, Quan said, tens of thousands of patients "either will be forced to forgo their medicine or be forced into the back alleys and underground, illegal markets."
The city would be better off if the federal government would take the money from its fight against Harborside and use it "to instead increase our police force and assist Oakland with gun violence and investigations," the mayor said.
Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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