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Blogs worth reading from Oakland organizations

18 Apr

I was so excited last week to find out that TransForm had started a blog, and it got me thinking about the other great Oakland based organizations that have blogs. I link to some of them in my blogroll but felt it was worth a post to spread the word about these great blogs:

TransForm – TransForming the Bay Area: The blog is new so it’s hard to know the scope, but judging by its name and TransForm’s mission, it is likely to cover transportation and land use issues in the Bay Area.

Ella Baker Center – Ella’s Voice: Ella’s Voice covers a wide range of issues that the Ella Baker Center works on – the environment, criminal justice, civil rights, and much more. I’ve been following the blog for a while and have enjoyed the mix of story telling, action alerts, and policy updates. Continue reading

Bye bye Oaksterdam University sign… hello Oaksterdam mural

10 Mar

UPDATE: The mural artist sent me some incredible close up photos which I’ve added to the end of this post.

Last month, V Smoothe wrote a really interesting blog post about the Oaksterdam University sign and the Planning Commission process to choose a mural to replace it. I highly recommend reading the entire post, as it asks the important question – what criteria should be used to select public art?

She also discusses placemaking and how the sign really marked the neighborhood and people visiting got excited about it. So it’s important for the new mural to serve the same function. The Planning Commission had initially approved a really bland mural of Lake Merritt for the wall but ultimately accepted this proposal as well and left it up to Oaksterdam to decide: Continue reading

John Russo: “Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure”

28 Apr

Disclosure: I proudly work for the Control & Tax Cannabis campaign.

Oakland City Attorney John Russo wrote an excellent op-ed about the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 that I thought was worth sharing. As the City Attorney of the first city in the country to regulate the sales of medical marijuana, Russo has seen first hand that regulation can improve public safety and believes the same can be accomplished statewide and beyond with the passage of the initiative:

As the City Attorney of Oakland — a city where dozens of people are killed in drug-related murders every year — my primary concern is the war on marijuana’s collateral damage to public safety.

Black market marijuana is a main source of fuel powering the vast criminal enterprises that threaten peace on our streets and weaken national security on our borders. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Mexican drug cartels get more than 60 percent of their revenue from selling marijuana in the United States.

Money is the oxygen of these organizations. For decades, our approach to fighting violent drug gangs has been like trying to put out a house fire with a watering can. Why not try shutting off the fire’s oxygen supply?

Russo’s right. The war on drugs has been an utter failure, not only at curbing the use of illegal drugs but also at ending violence. Cannabis regulation is a way to curb this violence and to stop needless arrests that waste tax payer dollars:

The cost of enforcing prohibition is hard to estimate. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars and countless law enforcement hours arresting people for low-level marijuana crimes, further overburdening courts and prisons. Jail beds needed for marijuana offenders could be “used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space,” the state Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote.

More than 61,000 Californians were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2008. That same year, about 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved statewide. The reality is that resources tied up fighting marijuana would be better spent solving and preventing violent felonies and other major crimes.

Russo’s entire op-ed is worth a read so I encourage you to click through and read the entire piece, but if not, he sums up his points well at the end:

Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure. It takes marijuana off street corners and out of the hands of children. It cuts off a huge source of revenue to the violent gangsters who now control the market. And it gives law enforcement more capacity to focus on what really matters to Californians — making our communities safer.

It’s time we call marijuana prohibition what it is — an outdated and costly approach that has failed to benefit our society. In November, we will finally have the chance to take a rational course with the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act.

Oaklanders like Russo have seen firsthand that marijuana regulation and taxation works. Now it’s up to us to spread that message to the rest of the state to ensure the passage of this initiative in November.

Special budget meetings, where good ideas go to die

16 Feb

Tonight, the Oakland City Council will have yet another special budget meeting. Somehow, in just one hour, they’re expected to make progress on the seemingly unending and ever-growing budget gap that the City faces.

I’m getting sick of these budget meetings. They seem increasingly pointless, because not only do they keep getting delayed and then no decisions are made at them, but when councilmembers do offer substantive ideas at these meetings, they seem to be talking to themselves since their ideas are almost never incorporated into subsequent budget proposals.

The December 17th budget meeting, for example, mostly consisted of a depressing procession of public speakers explaining why one program or another shouldn’t be cut. Then the councilmembers went on and on about what a bad situation the City is and wondered how they’d ever get out of it. But there were also a couple of legitimate revenue raising ideas proposed by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Ignacio De La Fuente.

Kaplan proposed an increase of billboards, an increase in medical cannabis dispensaries, and licensing of medical cannabis grow operations:

De La Fuente proposed selling golf courses (which Max Allstadt had proposed in his public comments earlier that morning):

Fast forward to the current budget proposal – none of these ideas are incorporated or even mentioned. So someone please tell me, what is the point of these budget meetings? Is it just a place for the public and Council to vent? Or a place where good ideas go to die?

I’ll be attending the meeting tonight to ask staff and the Council why these substantive ideas were completely ignored. If you’d like to join me, the meeting runs from 5-6pm in the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza. You can also watch online via KTOP.

Yesterday’s budget meeting via Twitter

18 Dec

I had hoped to write a real blog post yesterday or today, but yesterday flew by and today I woke up with a nasty cold and I can’t really focus. So you won’t get a super-excited post from me about City Attorney John Russo’s opinion, issued yesterday, that clearly states that the Council must implement IRV because it’s a voter mandate. (But you should read it – it’s short, easy to read, and important.)

Instead, I’m taking a page from V Smoothe’s book and will share with you Twitter coverage of yesterday’s budget meeting. Though not a lot of new ideas were proposed, I’m glad this meeting was not delayed until January because the Council did approve some staff suggestions and gave staff direction on various other proposals. Hopefully the January budget meeting will be more productive because of this.

If you’d like to see the full budget meeting, it’s only 2 hours and can be viewed online or downloaded.

OaklandBecks: Council budget mtg just started and @Vsmoothe speaking at open forum about KTOP online streaming being down.

OaklandBecks: She’s also saying it’s difficult for people to watch this budget mtg because it’s at 10am and people don’t have Comcast at work.

OaklandBecks: City Administrator Lindheim explains that server has crashed and it will cost $25K to fix. They’re trying to fix it.

OaklandBecks: Lindheim also says it will be improved – currently only allows 250 connections and will allow unlimited connections.

SeanforOakland: @OaklandBecks Someone tell Lindheim to move the server to 365 Main in JLS and this won’t happen.

OaklandBecks: Now @MaxAllstadt is speaking. Suggests taking back $182K from Chamber of Commerce for Chiodo sculpture.

OaklandBecks: Staff – most of our budget “solutions” are one time funds and fund transfers.

OaklandBecks: City Administrator doesn’t recommend spending reductions – so little time left in fiscal year that it wouldn’t make difference.

OaklandBecks: Also, these spending reductions would decimate services, like closing 6 recreation centers or elimination of all IT support.

OaklandBecks: You can see the full staff budget proposal here:

MaxAllstadt: Dan Lindheim: Selling assets to cover operating costs makes no sense, but we’re so screwed we might have no choice

dto510: The problem with selling assets isn’t just that prices are low, it’s that sales wouldn’t close for a long time.

OaklandBecks: Lindheim – to close budget gaps w/o one-time solutions, we need further revenue. Asks Council if they’d put rev measures on ballot.

MaxAllstadt: Why isn’t anybody discussing the possibility of selling one of our 3 golf courses?

OaklandBecks: Parks advocate – don’t dismember the already skeletal parks staff we now have. Many parks don’t even receive routine maintenance.

MaxAllstadt: Local 21 rep wants a freeze on hiring to replace early retirees. Demands in house promotion where replacement is essential.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan – we can’t put this off forever with one-time money – we’ll eventually have to make drastic cuts.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan – police/fire budgets growing as general fund shrinks. Eventually have city that’s nothing but police/fire if continues.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan again recommending more billboards on freeways and more medical cannabis facilities as way to create ongoing revenue.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan – permit more medical cannabis dispensaries & permit growers for increased revenue. Permitting growers is way overdue!

OaklandBecks: Kaplan also suggests increased local vehicle registration fee for funds for road repair (which Oakland’s streets desperately need).

Why is Quan speaking? I thought she wanted this meeting to be held off until January:

OaklandBecks: Quan – Mayor’s office, IT department, and police need to come within budget (they’re currently over budget).

OaklandBecks: Quan – should do citizen’s survey on funding & revenue priorities. Sounds like city-funded research for her mayoral campaign.

OaklandBecks: De La Fuente increasingly concerned about structural deficit that we’re not addressing. We haven’t had political will to make cuts.

De La Fuente says we should sell golf courses. We’d get immediate cash and they’d be managed better. That was @MaxAllstadt’s idea!

MaxAllstadt: We should sell a Golf Course: lock in huge ad valorem tax, mandate subdivision + development within 10 years, create more ad valorem tax!

OaklandBecks: De La Fuente – we need to deal with pensions or the city will go bankrupt. We need union/city comm to look at pension problem.

OaklandBecks: Brooks doesn’t think public would respond well to new tax measures since city hasn’t handled Measure Y well.

OaklandBecks: Nadel agrees with Kaplan on permitting & taxing medical cannabis growers but concerned about increased billboards.

Nadel – some neighborhoods get street cleaning weekly & could deal with less. I’ve heard this suggestion from people in her district

OaklandBecks: Why does Brunner never understand staff reports? She’s asking questions about something that was incredibly clear.

OaklandBecks: It seems so simple to understand that while $3.2 mil unspent exists, we can’t touch it because it’s committed already.

OaklandBecks: The CMs keep talking about cutting everything that is not core. But none of them have explained exactly what is core.

OaklandBecks: Many of them seem to agree that the city can’t afford to fund non-profits, outside of what’s required by ballot measures.

OaklandBecks: Brunner says we need June ballot and it should be public-safety measure. People won’t vote for this after Measure Y failure.

OaklandBecks: Also, June ballot initiatives negate potential IRV savings. We wouldn’t have to pay for June election if we don’t have initiatives.

dto510: @OaklandBecks Is that you pointing it out, or CM Brunner?

OaklandBecks: @dto510 That’s me pointing it out. It apparently either hasn’t occurred to her or she just doesn’t care.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan wants to see anticipated revenues & expenditures for next 5 years at next budget mtg to help decide about tax measures.

OaklandBecks: Kernighan – before we go for ballot measure, must cut everything public sees as a waste.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan wants to see Measure Y revision on ballot but prefers Nov ballot. Not saying this, but she’s thinking about IRV.

OaklandBecks: Kaplan – who authorizes police standing around watching peaceful protestors like lockdown of City Hall Tues due to trucker protest?

Vsmoothe: @OaklandBecks Yes, who does authorize that? I had to fight for a long time to be let in for Finance Committee on Tues. Ridiculous!

OaklandBecks: Council approves staff recommendations to close part of budget & tells departments to stay w/in budget or come in Jan to explain.

December 14-20 Oakland Political & Community Events

13 Dec

Wednesday, December 16h – AC Transit Meeting on Service Adjustment Plan

At AC Transit’s regular Board meeting, the Board will be voting on final approval of the service adjustment plan. They also will be voting on changing transfer policy so that transfers would be valid for 2 hours, instead of the current 1.5 hours. This was a change requested by many community members during the service adjustment planning process. This meeting will take place at 6pm in the 2nd floor board room, 1600 Franklin Street. You can read the agenda and see the relevant memos here.

Wednesday, December 16th – Americans for Safe Access Holiday Party

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the organization I used to work for, is throwing its annual holiday party to celebrate a year of successes in the fight for safe access to medical marijuana. There will be a silent auction, appetizers, champagne, live music by the Brass Liberation Orchestra, and a screening of “Medical Cannabis in California: A report from the front-line.” The event is 21+ and you must bring your physician’s recommendation for access to vapor lounge. The party runs from 7:30pm-11:55pm at Maxwell’s Restaurant & Lounge, 341 14th Street at Webster in Oakland. For tickets and more information, visit ASA’s website or call ASA’s office at 510-251-1856.

Thursday, December 17th – BART Forum on Police Chief Selection

BART’s Chief of Police is retiring at the end of this year and BART is undertaking a nationwide search to replace him. This forum will be a chance for the public to provide input on the recruitment and selection of the new police chief. This forum takes place at 6:00 p.m. at Joseph P. Bort MetroCenter Auditorium, 101 8th Street in Oakland (across from the Lake Merritt BART Station). For more details, visit BART’s website.

Thursday, December 17th – Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Meeting

Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) meets monthly to discusses bicycle and pedestrian issues. This month’s agenda looks very exciting, including discussions of Oakland’s Bus Rapid Transit Locally Preferred Alternative, the citywide parking study, and bicycle wayfinding signage project implementation. The BPAC is extremely inclusive – any Oakland resident who attends three consecutive meetings becomes a voting member of the committee – so if you’re interested in bike and ped issues, you should consider attending. The BPAC will be meeting from 5:30-7:30pm in Hearing Room 4 of City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Thursday, December 17th – East Bay Young Dems Holiday Party: Cozy Cocktails

Join the East Bay Young Dems as we gather to celebrate our collective successes and prepare for the work ahead in 2010. Cozy Cocktails is an intimate get-together where fellow EBYD members (and prospective members!) can bond and really get to know one another over a cup of holiday cheer. Please bring a cocktail or some snacks to share. The party will be held from 6:30-9:00pm at the home of Hon. Abel Guillen, Peralta Trustee, in North Oakland. For the address, more details, and to RSVP, see the Facebook event.

Friday, December 18th – Citywide Holiday Open House

On Friday, December 18, stores and restaurants throughout Oakland will stay open late (from 6-8pm) to give you a chance to do some last-minute holiday shopping. Several of the stores will feature  live music, refreshments, discounts, gift wrapping, and a variety of other activities. Visit the website for a listing of all of the participating stores.

Remember to vote, and then start thinking about the other special election

19 May

I hope you’ll join me in voting down all the state ballot initiatives today, but as soon as you do that, it will be time to start thinking about the next election. That’s right, on July 21st, Oakland will be holding its own special election to deal with our local budget crisis. (Wasn’t this supposed to be our year off from voting? Oh well.)

I’ll have endorsements out sometime before the election, but here’s a quick run down on what you’ll be asked to vote on:

  • Marijuana tax: Creates a special tax rate of 1.2% for marijuana sales.
  • Measure OO partial repeal: The passage of Measure OO last November added to the huge hole in Oakland’s General Fund so the Council voted on a repeal. After deadlocking twice on the vote, they ultimately compromised and voted for a partial repeal that would maintain part of the funding for Measure OO programs.
  • Transfer tax: Corporate real estate transfers are currently not subject to the same transfer tax that other properties are. This measure would clarify the law so that the transfer tax applies to all properties.
  • Hotel tax: Increases Oakland’s hotel tax from 11% to 13% to fund museums and arts.

If you’re ready to learn more, head to the Metropolitian Greater Oakland Democratic Club’s meeting this week that will focus on Oakland’s special election. The meeting’s on Thursday, May 21st from 7:30-9:00pm at the Dimond Library, 3565 Fruitvale Avenue. (I would have included this meeting on my weekly events listing but I still can’t figure out how to get on MGO’s email list so if anyone from the group is reading, please let me know.)

April 20-25 Oakland Political & Community Events

19 Apr

Monday, April 20th – City Visions Radio presents “What’s Next for Oakland’s Downtown – Ten Years After the 10K Project”

So the title of this show sounds pretty inacuous and interesting – I think it’s a good idea to reflect back on former plans to see how they went. But the description I received from the producer and the one on their website are a bit overboard, calling the current situation a “crisis” and ominously stating: “But now units are standing empty, with potential buyers unable to get mortgages, while other projects are in limbo as developers struggle to keep solvent.” Look, we all know that units are empty in the DTO, but they’re also empty throughout the city (and the state, and the country). We’re in the middle of an economic crisis and it seems unfair to look at the DTO in a vaccum and to blame the vacancies on the 10K plan alone. And nowhere in the description of the show did it mention the enormous success of entertainment venues, bars and restaurants in dowtown over the past few years so I hope they won’t gloss over that. Oh well, guess we’ll just have to wait and hear how it goes tomorrow. The show will run from 7-8 pm and you can call in with questions and comments to (415) 841-4134 or email questions to Tune in at City Visions Radio, 91.7 FM, KALW or online at

Monday, April 20th – Budget Town Hall

This will be the second of three budget town halls the City is hosting throughout Oakland in the next few weeks to get feedback from residents on the budget and budget cuts. V Smoothe wrote some background info on the budget, and I couldn’t agree more with her take on these town halls: “Go to the town halls and go to the budget meetings and tell them what your priorities are. If you don’t, I guarantee, somebody else will, and you can take a wild guess who’s more likely to get what they want.” This town hall will be held from 6:30-8pm at Edna Brewer Middle School (tentative location), 3745 13th Avenue (at Park).

Tuesday, April 21st – Oakland City Council Meeting

Taxes, taxes, taxes!!! That’s a pretty good summary of what the Council will be addressing this Tuesday night. They’ll be considering raising the sales tax, placing a special tax on gross revenues of cannabis sales, a creating a new parcel tax on park maintenance and landscaping, and amending the property transfer tax. And if they get through all those taxes before 2am, they also will be discussing some other issues, like the East Oakland private security pilot program. See the full meeting agenda and check out my post about how to watch and understand City Council meetings if you need some guidance on how or where to view the meeting. The non-ceremonial parts of the meeting start at 7pm, and if you’d like to see the meeting in person, head to the Council Chambers in City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Tuesday, April 21st – Walk Oakland Bike Oakland Monthly Meeting

Join WOBO as we prepare for Bike to Work Day, May 14th! We need your help to get ready for WOBO’s energizer stations, as well as to support the 1,000 participants expected throughout the O. We will be prepping materials and making plans to set up, staff, and take down our two energizer stations at 27th & Broadway and Oak and 14th St (right at the corner of Lake Merritt). We hope you can make it, and that you are ready. Check the WOBO website for information and a link to our BTWD volunteer Google doc. This meeting will be held from 6:30-8:30 pm at Bay Area Wilderness Training, 2301 Broadway, Suite B – enter on 23rd Street. For more info, visit WOBO’s website.

Wednesday, April 22nd – Central Estuary Plan Community Workshop #2

Via City Homestead: “The second meeting is coming up for the Central Estuary Plan, which is designed to build a vision and provide a framework to support development and enhancement of the Estuary from Adeline Street to 66th Avenue. The project examines land use along the Estuary and the associated environmental, economic, quality of life and health-related impacts. This month you’ll have a chance to discuss the vision and the healthy development of the area, according to the website. I didn’t go to the first meeting, but luckily the folks over at Oakland Streets did, so you can read up on it there. (The CEDA website also includes meeting presentations and other materials.” For another take on the first meeting, check out Tom Thurston’s post at A Better Oakland and the extensive discussion that followed. The meeting will be held from 7-9pm at The Unity Council, Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center, 3301 East 12th Street, Suite 201 (Fruitvale Transit Village).

Thursday, April 23rd – Harrison Street/Oakland Avenue Community-Based Transportation Plan

Via City Homestead: “This is the second meeting for this project, too. (Future Oakland has a post about the first meeting.) The Caltrans-funded plan looks at Harrison Street and Oakland Avenue from the Piedmont border to Grand Avenue.  DC&E consultants and city staff will be presenting alternatives for the corridor to address access and safety for pedestrians, bicycle facility improvements, traffic calming, I-580 signage and modified access, and AC Transit stop improvements.” I’m very interested in this planning process but unfortunately cannot make it to this meeting so if you attend, please share how it went. The meeting will be held from 6-8pm at Westlake Middle School Gym, 2629 Harrison Street (at 27th).

Sunday, April 25th – Tribute Show for OPD Officers at the Uptown

Via Angela Woodall: “On Sunday, April 26th at 5PM, the Uptown Nightclub will be hosting a benefit/tribute event featuring live music and entertainment acts with all door proceeds benefiting the four families of the recently slain OPD officers. This event is being done with the blessing and support of the Oakland Police Officers Association.” Entertainment for the evening will include the Badmen, Charlie Roman & the Teenage Werewolves, Borstal Holiday, and Special Guests. The Uptown is located at 1928 Telegraph, and they’re asking for a $10 donation.

The whole story on Oakland’s proposed marijuana tax

9 Apr

On Tuesday, the Finance Committee took the first big step towards placing a marijuana tax on the ballot. And despite the Tribune’s take on this issue, this tax, if passed, will not just apply to the four medical cannabis dispensaries currently operating in Oakland.

Let me back up a bit though, since the entire story is quite interesting. A couple months ago, James Anthony, a land use attorney who represents Harborside Health Center (one of the four permitted dispensaries), approached several council members about placing a business tax on the ballot. All four dispensaries came on board with the proposal and agreed to pay a tax at ten times the rate of their current tax – 1.2% (or $12 per $1000 of gross receipts).

To me, this is fairly incredible. An industry stepped forward and said, please raise our taxes! Now, it’s not unprecedented in the medical cannabis and larger cannabis community. Those in the industry are mostly willing and happy to pay taxes, as long as they’re left alone by law enforcement.

Once this proposal was out of James Anthony’s hands, city staff and council members considered higher rates of taxation. $24 per $1000 was proposed to make a further dent in the budget. Part of the problem here is that the staff report on this issue is basing estimations of tax revenue on gross revenues from 2007. So they estimate that the $12 rate would bring in $200,000 and the $24 rate $400,000 per year. But I know the medical cannabis industry very well, and I am sure that the numbers have gone up since then (why they couldn’t use the 2008 numbers, I have no clue).

At the hearing on Tuesday, Rebecca Kaplan appeared before the committee and proposed a $14 rate, which the dispensaries had agreed to, even though it was higher than their initial proposal. Nancy Nadel followed, making a motion on the $14 rate, but Ignacio De La Fuente quickly countered that the rate should be $24.

Then came my favorite part of the hearing. Nadel responded that De La Fuente is always a proponent of bringing businesses together, and that’s exactly what she and Kaplan had done. They brought the businesses together and agreed upon a rate that everyone could live with.

But De La Fuente wouldn’t budge, and since the committee was already running 15 minutes past the end of their meeting time (an issue that I’ll write about next week), Jean Quan proposed just leaving the range open for the full Council to decide. And that’s what the committee did, which means that we’ll see an interesting debate and possibly lengthy testimony at next week’s Council meeting.

The story doesn’t end there though. There are a couple of issues that came up during the meeting that I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. The first is that De La Fuente asked about illegal dispensaries – would they have to pay this tax? What he’s referring to are not always medical marijuana dispensaries but Measure Z adult use clubs that have popped up around the city, against the city’s wishes. Kaplan replied that she hoped this tax could be used as a civil enforcement tool. If those non-permitted marijuana clubs did not pay the taxes, the city could shut them down for this – in the same way as the Mafia was taken down.

Another interesting and important issue is that this tax does not just apply to dispensary sales. From the proposed language in the ordinance, this tax will apply to any cannabis business:

“cannabis business” means business activity including, but not limited to, planting, cultivation, harvesting, transporting, manufacturing, compounding, converting, processing, preparing, storing, packaging, wholesale and/or retail sales of marijuana, any part of the plant Cannabis sativa L. or its derivatives.

Currently, the city doesn’t regulate any cannabis business besides dispensaries, but if they decided in the future to regulate medical growers or edible producers, those people would have to pay this tax as well. And looking further into the future, if marijuana was ever legalized for adult recreational use, this tax would apply to that too. So what started as a proposal for a $12 per $1000 tax on medical cannabis dispensary sales could turn into a $24 per $1000 tax on all marijuana sales, which could potentially bring in millions of dollars of revenue annually.

It will be interesting to see how the City Council hearing goes next Tuesday. I’ll be sure to cover it here.

James Anthony: OPD steps in to enforce medical cannabis regulations

26 Feb

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.

lemondropLast 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.