The owner of the Crimson Galleria and nearby properties clustered along JFK Street wants a federal judge to block a proposed Winthrop Street dispensary, arguing marijuana remains illegal under federal law and so its proposed operators - and the city of Cambridge, the town of Georgetown and the state of Massachusetts - are violating the federal anti-racketeering law.
In addition to wanting to block the Healthy Pharms dispensary, Raj Dhanda demands to be triple reimbursed for the massive losses he claims he is incurring because he is now unable to fully redevelop his parcels - unlike every other Harvard Square property owner.
Dhanda has long opposed the dispensary, but his lawsuit, filed this week in US District Court in Boston, represents a significant escalation of his opposition. Where once he claimed to be unopposed to dispensaries in general - just this particular location for one, he is now charging that dispensaries represent a criminal act that require suppression under a law normally used by prosecutors to go after murdering, drug-dealing gangs.
In January, when the Planning Board was considering the issue, he wrote the board that he opposed the proposal only because of its location in a historic building on a narrow street that he said would be overwhelmed by extra foot traffic to and from the place and cause possible public-safety issues:
My objection is to the location and the building, not to the idea of marijuana dispensary.
Now he has hired two law firms in what could be a case with national ramifications - a local firm and the Washington, DC firm of Cooper & Kirk, one of whose principals, Charles Cooper, was hired earlier this year by vocal anti-pot advocate and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions (although to help Sessions defend himself against allegations related to Russian election interference).
In the suit, Dhanda points to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
On the issue of marijuana, federal law is clear: it is a felony under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (“CSA”) to deal in marijuana. Despite the express federal prohibition on marijuana, Massachusetts and many of its local jurisdictions have enacted laws, ordinances, and regulations designed to promote the growth of a billion-dollar commercial marijuana industry. Yet, notwithstanding that recreational and medicinal marijuana is now “legal” in Massachusetts, the drug’s cultivation, sale, and possession remain serious federal criminal offenses in Massachusetts and conflict with federal law. Indeed, those associated with Massachusetts’s largest-scale marijuana producers risk lengthy terms in federal prison. The people of Massachusetts are free to advocate for a repeal of this federal criminal prohibition, but they must do so through their elected representatives in Congress. Under our federal system, Congress alone can authorize revision of federal laws prohibiting the commercial trade in marijuana.
As for RICO:
Dealing in marijuana is racketeering activity under RICO, and those who engage in a pattern of racketeering activity through a corporation or other enterprise are liable for three times the economic harm they cause plus costs and attorneys’ fees. Those who conspire with racketeers by agreeing to assist them are likewise liable. RICO also gives Federal Courts the power to order racketeering enterprises and their coconspirators to cease their unlawful operations. Accordingly, the Plaintiffs ask this Court to award them the damages, costs, and fees to which they are entitled, and request that the Court order the RICO Defendants to cease their open and notorious violation of federal law and enter injunctive relief preventing further violation of federal law.
Dhanda says the proposed dispensary, which was approved by the Cambridge Planning Board earlier this year and which would sell products based on marijuana grown in Georgetown, would be bad for his business:
Amongst other matters, marijuana businesses make bad neighbors, which include without limitation, emitting pungent odors, attracting undesirable visitors, increasing criminal activity, driving down property values, and limiting the rental of premises. Crimson Galeria, RAJ & RAJ, Harvard Square Holdings, and Charles River Holdings, are property owners who have suffered serious and substantial injuries caused by the operations of a nearby marijuana business, including, but not limited to, significant diminution in property value, restricted ability to lease space, and infringement of the ability to pursue a redevelopment plan to bring certain of their properties to their highest-and-best use.