The City Council on Thursday designated the Oakland Marijuana Buyers Cooperative as officers of the city, an effort to shield the group from federal civil and criminal prosecution.

The U.S. Justice Department had won a temporary restraining order in May against the Oakland cooperative and five other medical marijuana providers in California, claiming that they were in violation of federal narcotics laws. Three of the cooperatives shut down voluntarily, while the others, including the one in Oakland, have defied the U.S. District Court ruling.Oakland officials and the cooperative had worked together since the passage of a 1996 state initiative that allowed medically prescribed marijuana to be distributed to any "seriously ill" Californian.

"We decided we needed to be out on the frontier, to ease the suffering of those in need," said Councilman Nate Miley. "We're delighted to offer the cooperative all the support we can, and hope that other cities will follow suit."