A three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments today on whether the City of Oakland, CA enjoys sufficient standing to challenge, via the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the federal government's long-running attempt to forfeit Harborside Health Center, a licensed medical marijuana dispensary.
The City of Oakland argues that the APA provides a viable alternative to challenge the attempted forfeiture because it is ineligible to challenge the forfeiture as a forfeiture claimant and because the APA provides a statutory right to challenge agency action where not otherwise provided by law.
The federal government, in turn, argues that because the forfeiture claim process provides a means to challenge a forfeiture as a claimant, the APA does not create an alternative route for challenging a forfeiture -- that is, the sole means for the City of Oakland (or any municipality) to directly challenge a forfeiture, according to the federal government, would be as a forfeiture claimant, regardless of whether the municipality could sustain claimant status (seemingly excluding Oakland).
In February of 2013, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James ruled that the City of Oakland failed to establish the jurisdictional requirements for federal judicial review, under the APA, but then agreed to stay the order, pending appeal.
An added wrinkle, the recently signed into law "Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015” says that it prohibits the U.S. Department of Justice from expending funds to prevent certain states, including California, “from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Whether and how such language circumscribes the DOJ's ability to pursue forfeitures against state-compliant businesses, like Harborside, or even to defend against collateral attacks on forfeitures, like the City of Oakland's argument, remains murky.
Today's oral arguments are scheduled to be broadcast live here.