Bob Egelko
Updated 8:57 pm, Friday, January 18, 2013

The state Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to review a ruling to allow large nonprofit dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, a case that could affect the federal government’s attempt to shut down the giant Harborside dispensary in Oakland.

Harborside Health Center is the nation’s largest medical marijuana supplier, with 108,000 patients. Local and state authorities have not objected to its operations, but U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag sued in July to seize its property in Oakland and a smaller site in San Jose.

Invoking the Obama administration’s policy of targeting dispensaries that violated state as well as federal drug laws, Haag said the larger the dispensary, “the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state’s medical marijuana law.”

But a lawyer for Harborside said the state court’s latest action in a Southern California case contradicts Haag’s position.

The case involved Jovan Jackson, operator of a San Diego dispensary called Answerdam Alternative Care, which is organized as a collective and distributes marijuana to 1,600 members.

When Jackson was charged with illegally selling marijuana, a judge ruled that Answerdam didn’t qualify as a collective entitled to distribute the drug under state law because most of its members simply paid for the pot and didn’t grow it. A state appeals court disagreed in July and granted a new trial to Jackson, who had been convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.

California law “permits retail dispensaries” and does not limit their size, as long as they operate as not-for-profit collectives or cooperatives, said the Fourth District Court of Appeal in a 3-0 ruling. The court rejected prosecutors’ arguments that the law protects only small collectives in which most or all members take part in producing marijuana for their own medical use.

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