U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Scourge of Medical Marijuana, Is Quitting

Friday, August 07, 2015
Melinda Haag (photo: U.S. Department of Justice)

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, the bane of medical marijuana supporters and prosecutor of high-profile characters like baseball player Barry Bonds and state Senator Leland Yee, announced she is resigning September 1.

Haag’s Northern California office employed 130 lawyers and more than a few of them were focused on making life miserable for growers and dispensaries in California. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder would periodically make sounds about lightening up on states where medical marijuana is legal (now 23) despite federal laws banning the drug.

And then Haag, a 2010 appointee of President Obama, would bust a bunch of dispensaries and give voice to a far less conciliatory policy.    

Her office has sought to close Harborside Health Center, a national model for how a dispensary should operate, for four years. The center, which operates in Oakland and San Jose, was the subject of a four-part reality-series on the Discovery Channel in 2011 called “Weed Wars.” The show starred Harborside co-founder Steve DeAngelo.

The first episode featured a fight between Harborside and Oakland’s Business Tax Board of Review. Soon after the series ended, Harborside was hit with a $2.5 million bill from the Internal Revenue Service. The DOJ crackdown started shortly thereafter. Harborside has survived, but is still engaged in legal struggles to stay open.

Haag also sought a civil forfeiture action in 2011 against Berkeley Patients Group (BPG), one of the oldest (est. 1999) and largest dispensaries in the state. That was blocked by a federal judge in February, but the U.S. District Court of Appeals has not been heard from.  

Haag, a 53-year-old graduate of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, was a white-collar defense lawyer for 14 years before serving as a federal prosecutor for nine. The U.S. Attorneys Office oversees a wide range of cases, including gang prosecutions, white-collar crime, Chinese economic espionage, Bitcoin theft by federal agents, gun trafficking, child porn and political corruption.

Haag indicted ex-Senator Yee, fellow Bay Area Democrat, on racketeering charges in 2014 and won a guilty plea last month. She has tangled with Fed-Ex over alleged shipments of illegal pharmaceuticals by online pharmacies and PG&E over alleged obstruction of justice related to the fatal 2010 San Bruno blast.

It’s expected that Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch will run the office until the election next year but unknown whether the change of leadership will affect its marijuana policy. Regardless, DeAngelo of Harborside is declaring victory.

“I always believed Harborside would outlast Ms. Haag, so hearing that she is stepping down gives us great relief and great satisfaction,” he said in a release. “We hope her successor will have a more finely tuned understanding of compassion and justice than Ms. Haag has displayed, and allow Harborside to focus on serving our patients instead of battling a court case that should never have been started.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

US Attorney Melinda Haag to Resign (by Jeremy Daw, The Leaf)

Melinda Haag, Top Federal Prosecutor in S.F., Is Stepping Down (by Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle)

Bay Area U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag Stepping Down (by Howard Mintz, San Jose Mercury News)

Medical Cannabis Advocates Relieved that Anti-Marijuana Crusader Melinda Haag Is Quitting (by John Geluardi, East Bay Express)

Federal Judge Blocks U.S. Attorney from Seizing Berkeley Pot Dispensary (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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