This guest post was written by James Anthony, a land use attorney who works with legitimate legal medical cannabis dispensaries in Oakland and elsewhere. He is a former City of Oakland community prosecutor (Neighborhood Law Corps 2003-2005) and a member of the Board of Directors of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
Last Friday, the Oakland Police Department raided the Lemon Drop Cafe at 1736 Telegraph Ave and recovered 16 firearms, 2 pounds of marijuana, and $16,000 cash. Oakland has four city-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries (MCDs), but this was not one of them. The Lemon Drop had been one of the original dozen or so MCDs that operated in the Oaksterdam area (better known now as Uptown) before 2004, when Oakland put its regulations in place and cut the number of MCDs to four with a licensing system. The Lemon Drop never held one of the four licenses.
But it is something of an evolutionary turning point for OPD to go after an unlicensed “MCD” and charge its operators for violation of state and local law. This was not a federal DEA raid of the kind that happens (and can still happen) to legitimate MCDs all over the state. This was a local police department raiding an illegitimate operation– while leaving its four city-licensed MCDs unmolested. You wouldn’t think that was a big deal, but it is.
Law enforcement is confused by MCDs. They have been slow to recognize the difference between legitimate licensed MCDs and the unlicensed opportunists that steadily pop up in Oakland. There have been at least three such rogue operators in the last 6 months–and the city’s approach has been mostly administrative enforcement with OPD unable to find a role. Until now.
The Lemon Drop had operated on and off for the last 6 months or so as an “underground” MCD. The operators are unknown to the medical cannabis movement, but are not the original operators from the old days. They were flagrantly violating the city’s regulations, and had been warned and ordered to stop by city officials. The landlord signed an agreement not to allow the tenants to operate as a dispensary. But once again unlicensed activity started up there, without any connection to the legitimate medical cannabis movement.
Maybe it was just the guns, but I like to think that OPD is developing an appreciation for the distinction between the licensed, regulated, tax-paying, above-board MCDs and the rogue operators who think anything goes in Oakland and are taking advantage of the City’s long history of support for medical cannabis. These operators are not part of the medical cannabis movement and disrespect the movement deeply. They present a disturbing and troubling image of uncontrolled drug sales, cash and guns, with no city oversight, no security, and no accountability.
That’s not even close to the real portrait of medical cannabis in Oakland in 2009. In almost five years of regulations the city has successfully controlled its four MCDs to the point where the city administrator’s annual reports find no indications of any problems associated with them at all. Oakland’s four licensed MCDs are good neighbors, respectful of their communities, civically engaged, and fulfilling the promise of California’s Compassionate Use Act by providing safe, local access to high quality fresh medicine. One of the MCDs even lab tests its medicines to ensure safety and quantify potency. They are all clean, safe, friendly, and legitimate.
Hopefully Friday’s raid on the old Lemon Drop will make it clear that Oakland is not the Wild West–and that illegitimate attempts to exploit the medical cannabis movement with bogus dispensaries will not be tolerated.