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(Dis)respect for the City Council

12 Feb

There’s been something on my mind for the past several months that I was reminded of on Tuesday night, as I watched the Public Safety Committee meeting. I often hear Oakland residents blaming all of Oakland’s problems on one council member (the council member varies based on the person), to the point where they accuse that council member of being corrupt or not really caring about Oakland. I try not to fall into that trap anymore, but I used to harbor such feelings towards one council member, Larry Reid.

My first exposure to Reid was back in 2004, when I attended the Public Safety Committee hearing on regulating medical marijuana dispensaries. At that time, there were a dozen dispensaries, all clustered in downtown Oakland, and the City was the first municipality in the state to see the need for regulations of this industry. I remember that meeting and subsequent meetings fairly clearly, and what I remember most was how Larry Reid seemed to dismiss the needs of medical marijuana patients and sometimes sounded very rude in his comments. To our community, it felt that he just didn’t care and would rather patients go to the illicit market.

Very quickly, Reid became my least favorite council member. I knew little about the Council and how the city functioned, but I knew that I did not like Larry Reid. All the negative medical marijuana regulations that came from the council, I blamed on Reid.

Looking back, I realize just how absurd and unfair that judgement was. Reid had legitimate, though misplaced, concerns about dispensaries. He had seen rampant drug use in his district and witnessed Oaklanders who spent their lives selling drugs. So Reid equated dispensaries with the black market and felt like this land use was being pushed onto Oakland, while other neighboring cities were not doing their part to accomodate dispensaries (which is true, especially South of Oakland). And the medical marijuana dispensaries had not fully done their part in educating Reid. I doubt patients from his district or dispensary employees from his district met with him to explain how dispensaries were a vital part of Oakland.

On Tuesday night, as I watched Reid and the other Public Safety Committee members discuss Reid’s proposed curfew for juveniles, I was reminded of this. I am entirely opposed to the curfew but could see that Reid truly meant well. He sounded saddened that the curfew had not passed and explained that he was not trying to victimize youth, but to ensure young people could live in a safe environment. He called on the community to reach out to him and other council members to help develop a solution and to address the problem of youth violence.

Look, I know we’re not always going to agree with the decisions of particular council members (or sometimes a terrible unanimous decision by the Council), but to me it’s clear that all of the council members mean well. Everyone of them cares deeply about Oakland. If they didn’t care, why do you think they’d be on the Council? It doesn’t pay well, it’s an incredibly difficult job, and their motives are constantly questioned. But we all have different policy ideas for making Oakland a better place, and sometimes those policy proposals are going to piss us off. That doesn’t mean it’s necessary to hate a council member or to think of a member as evil. Instead, it might be more productive to turn that negative energy into action and to try to work with the Council to make the changes you’d like to see in Oakland.

Monday Morning Distractions – Surfing the interwebs

3 Nov

I don’t know about you, but I need some distractions right about now. Really, can it be Tuesday night already? I can’t take the anticipation anymore!

To distract myself this weekend, I finally got caught up on blog posts and found some distractions that made me smile. Hope they make you smile too:

David at Brooklyn Avenue spotted a great No on 8 car parked in Oakland.

Apparently, Rockridge BART is the place to be on Thursday night. Oakland North covers the four square games that happen there weekly, complete with video. East Bay West Online (Oakland North’s sister site), also has a fun video up, of the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in East Oakland. Don’t you just love the variety of activities you run into throughout Oakland? And don’t you love Oakland North and East Bay West Online for telling you about them?

Via my cousin’s blog, I found this incredible set of photos of our next president. I know, you’ve already seen plenty of photos of Obama, but these are worth checking out. Make sure to keep clicking “show more images” to see all the beautiful photography in this set.

The Uptown neighborhood in downtown Oakland is hopping! dto510 covers all the excitement popping up in Uptown, including restaurants, apartments, and the soon to be opened Fox Theater. V Smoothe recently visited the brand new park next to the Uptown apartments and took some great photos. I need to find some time to head down there and check it out (after the election).

Check out this stunning photo Andrew at Oakland Geology took from atop Kaiser Hospital’s parking structure. Oakland is simply beautiful at dusk.

Britnney Gilbert’s job is to serve up distractions over at Eye on Blogs. I recently noticed this feature of hers called “Today’s [insert city here].” Check out Today’s Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco for some stunning Bay Area photos.

Via Awaken Cafe’s blog, I read this sometimes hopeful, sometimes depressing article in the Oakland Tribune about how small businesses are faring in Oakland in the face of an economic downturn. The takeaway from the story is that while some traditional businesses are seeing sales slump, businesses that fill a new niche are doing very well. One industry that’s booming in particular is medical marijuana:

Richard Lee, owner of the nearby Oaksterdam Gift Shop, at 405 15th St., said demand for medicinal marijuana is almost ridiculously high.

“The cannabis industry is booming now that sales are legal,” Lee said. “We’re using that to revitalize this part of Oakland. We think Oakland could be like Las Vegas, which used legalized gambling to expand to other industries, bringing in Cirque du Soleil and stuff like that.”

Lee said the pot club pays $300,000 a year in sales tax and employs 30 people, on top of attracting 1,000 customers a day, who contribute a lot of income to nearby eateries.

Maybe the council will recognize this next year and increase the medical marijuana dispensary permits allowed in Oakland from four to at least six.

Finding Living in the O

15 Oct

So one of the fun parts about writing a blog is you get to see how people stumbled onto your blog. There are a lot of predictable search terms that lead people to my blog – Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland, medical marijuana, people searching for a comparison of San Francisco and Oakland, etc. But then there are those few searches that stand out. Here are a few of my favorites from this week:

  • taking down campaign signs in oakland,ca: I can’t help but assume this person was so frustrated with the creepy Kerry Hamill signs, that s/he wanted to find out how to take them down.
  • why doesn’t bart run all night: I asked this same question last year (though now I’m less interested in this and more interested in making all night bus service more frequent and extensive).
  • free marijuana oakland: This just made me laugh. Does someone really think free marijuana can be found anywhere? Sorry, you’re not going to find that information here.
  • finds love while waiting for the bus: This may be my favorite search ever. Though I’m not looking for love, if I was, I think it would be incredibly romantic to find it while waiting for a bus.

A somewhat jarring return to Oakland

4 Sep

Yesterday was my first real day back in Oakland from Burning Man (since I spent all day Tuesday unpacking and cleaning playa dust off everything I brought). Unfortunately, I had to wake up and put on a suit and go to work. I don’t normally wear a suit to work, but I was headed for the sentencing hearing of my good friend and colleague Michael Martin.

As I discussed a year ago, the DEA had raided Mickey’s facility where he had produced medical cannabis edibles for California patients. Mickey was charged with several federal counts that could have lead him to be imprisoned for 10-20 years. Thinking about his family, he decided not to go to trial and to accept a plea bargain so he’d miss fewer years of his children’s lives sitting in prison.

But even one year in prison away from his children was more than he deserved, and I expected the worst going down to the Oakland federal courthouse yesterday afternoon.

The hearing was long and emotional. Supporters packed literally every seat in the courtroom and we waited, as Judge Claudia Wilkin discussed the conflict between state and federal law with the prosecutor, the defense attorneys, and Mickey’s probation officer. Then, Mickey spoke directly to the judge about his ordeal and explained that he was only doing what he did to help ailing patients who needed the medicine he produced.

My jarring reentry into Oakland was softened when I heard the judge announce that Mickey would serve no time in prison. Instead, he was sentenced to a year in a half way house, a year of home confinement, and five years of probation. I was elated, and it seemed that everyone in the courtroom had tears in our eyes as we left the building and congratulated Mickey and the Martin family.

There’s plenty of bad news regarding justice to go around in Oakland, so I thought I’d share this happy piece of news. I know it helped me feel better about my return to this city.

A sad day for justice

5 Aug

I had hoped to write about a bunch of transit stuff tonight, but I’m entirely distracted. Today, Charles Lynch, the former operator of a Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary, was convicted on five counts: conspiracy to possess and possession with intent to distribute marijuana and concentrated cannabis, manufacturing less than 100 plants, knowingly maintaining a drug premises, and sales of marijuana to a person under the age of 21. He faces at least 5 years in prison.

In my line of work, I’m used to depressing news – every day seems to be a roller coaster, but Lynch’s story is particularly disheartening to me. I remember talking to him several years ago when he was opening up his dispensary in Morro Bay. He worked closely with the city and was always very concerned about doing things in the best way possible for the community and his patient base. When he opened, the Mayor and the Chamber of Commerce showed up at the ribbon cutting ceremony:

Lynch had excellent attorneys defending him, and they mounted a strong entrapment defense. But it didn’t matter – though medical marijuana made it into his federal trial, the jurors were instructed that they must decide based on the facts of the case, not on how they felt about the justice of the laws in place.

On my way home from work I thought about what this meant for Oakland. The DEA is not letting up on its attacks of dispensaries throughout the state and now may even be bringing in Blackwater agents to do their dirty work (though they deny this, of course). I certainly don’t have a copy of the DEA’s playbook, but it would be naive to think that Oakland is immune from these types of these attacks. If someone like Charles Lynch could be raided and prosecuted, well, anyone could.

I started thinking about the Oakland medical marijuana dispensary operators I know well – they’re in this for all the right reasons and they willingly risk arrest and prosecution every day that they provide medicine to patients. Lynch’s trial was hard enough for me, but I’m not sure I could handle sitting through one of their trials.

Even if the DEA spares Oakland of future raids, one Oakland provider, Michael Martin, has already plead guilty to manufacturing medical marijuana edibles and will likely be sentenced next month. From the result of Lynch’s trial, it’s easy to see why someone like Martin would plead guilty, especially since he had to think about his children growing up with their father in prison for ten or more years if had gone to trial and been convicted.

I do hope that Oakland is spared from further DEA attacks – we only have to hold out a few more months because I’m confident that President Obama will not allow these senseless raids to continue. Until then, I’ll continue to be ready to get that awful call any day and will be ready to respond by putting my own liberty on the line.

If you’re not convinced that Charles Lynch’s conviction was unjust, take a look at this video, and if you are convinced, visit his website to find out how you can get involved.

Free Super High Me Screening at the Parkway Tomorrow

19 Apr

I have to admit, I’m not big on stoner culture and I think the celebration of 4/20 is kind of ridiculous, but be that as it may, there’s a great documentary being shown for FREE tomorrow at the Parkway so if you’re going to celebrate, this is a good cheap way to do it.

Tomorrow, Super High Me is being shown for free at 1,100 locations throughout the country. Yes, you read that number correctly. The movie creators decided the best way to publicize the film was to encourage free screenings of it from 4/20-5/20. After that, you’ll have to pay to see it. One of the screening locations will of course be at the Parkway. Strangely, the Parkway doesn’t have any information about the showing on their site, but I’m sure it’s happening. The movie will be shown at 5pm but if you want to see it, I’d get in line around 4pm (yes, that does mean you’ll have to spend 4:20 standing in line, but at least there’s plenty to munch on once you get inside).

As the title suggests, this movie is a spin off of Super Size Me, wherein comedian Doug Benson smokes copious amounts of marijuana for 30 days and does all sorts of tests to see how it’s effecting him. He also spends thirty days abstaining from marijuana use and does the same tests. Not surprisingly, even the huge amounts of cannabis he smokes don’t have big negative effects on him (besides causing him to gain a bit of weight).

But the movie’s not all comedic. I was a bit skeptical about the movie before I saw it, even though I’m friends with and have great respect for the producer, Alex Campbell. But the movie is ultimately very political, in a way that’s not heavy handed (and often very funny). Alex shot tons of footage of LA area dispensaries and DEA raids, and the movie draws attention to the conflict between federal and state law and how activists are standing up to federal attacks.

Interestingly, Alex knew little about the medical marijuana movement before working on this film, but he’s now a dedicated medical marijuana activist. He mostly lives in Oakland now (maybe that will be permanent soon because he’s always talking about how much better Oakland is than LA) and has volunteered his time for protests, meetings, phone banking, etc. My hope is that this movie will encourage others to follow the same road as Alex and become active in this movement.

So if you need a lot of laughs tomorrow mixed with a fair amount of political education, check out Super High Me. If for some reason you can’t make it to the screening at the Parkway, the film will be shown at locations throughout the Bay Area and the country so check out the map to find a screening near you.

Stop the Presses! Oakland Marijuana University Opens… 4 Months Ago

28 Feb

On Tuesday, the Oakland Tribune ran a front page AP article on a “new” school in downtown Oakland that teaches students about the various aspects of marijuana. OK, I understand the appeal of a story like this, but front page, for something that happened months ago and Fox News reported on in mid-January?

I guess V Smoothe is right – local reporting here is pretty pathetic if this makes front page.

Maybe the saddest part of this piece of non-news is that there really is a story here that was missed. Though the City Council attempted to destroy “Oaksterdam” years ago by only allowing 4 medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city and by requiring them to operate far away from each other,  Oaksterdam is making a revival. There’s the school. There’s the gift shop. There still are the dispensaries. And there’s the Patient ID Center that issues private and Alameda County IDs to qualified patients.

And while there might be a lack of local reporting in our regular papers, there will soon be, not one, not two, but three marijuana related publications being produced in Oakland (or nearby). These three publications are all offshoots of the now defunct Oaksterdam News.

No matter how hard the city tries to publicly distance itself from marijuana, it is still part of the city’s culture, neighborhoods, and business sector. Too bad the Tribune missed the real story and chose to run a fluff piece instead. I guess that’s what happens when you lay off all your local reporters and opt for AP pieces.

Oakland Medical Marijuana Resources

31 Jan

It’s surprising to me how many people find Living in the O by searching for medical marijuana (or something related to medical marijuana). The truth is that my blog is not the greatest resource for this issue. Sure, I’ve told some interesting stories about DEA raids, Dellums standing up for medical marijuana, and more, but there are far better places to find information about medical cannabis so I thought I’d share.

General Resource: If you want to get lost on a site for hours, reading about all aspects of medical marijuana – legal, political, medical, media – check out the site of Americans for Safe Access, the largest national member-based organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic uses and research.

Oakland Dispensaries: Believe it or not, there’s a specific site for this – – they have a listing and reviews of dispensaries in the East Bay. If you’re looking for dispensaries in the larger Bay Area or the state, California NORML has the most extensive listing. You can also find out about Oaksterdam at the now defunct Oaksterdam News website.

Oakland Medical Marijuana Doctors: If you’re trying to stay in Oakland, I recommend Compassionate Health Options in downtown. If you’re looking further away, CA NORML has a good physician listing as well.

Supporting Mickey Martin & Tainted: I wrote about this raid when it happened in September but haven’t provided an update since. The defendants have a hearing at the end of February and need support – financially and politically. Check out the Free Tainted website to get involved.

Medical Marijuana Blogs: Surprisingly, I haven’t found too many blogs devoted specifically to medical marijuana. Medical Cannabis: Voices from the Frontlines and are good places to start.

I think that covers most of what people have been searching for. Let me know if I missed anything.

Dellums Stands Up to DEA Attacks on Medical Marijuana

21 Dec

A few weeks ago, the DEA sent letters to dozens of landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries in the Bay Area. These letters are aimed at intimidating landlords into evicting their tenants, and they understandably scared many providers in activists in the area. Instead of giving in to intimidation, advocates immediately began reaching out to Bay Area mayors to ask them to speak out against the DEA raids and support efforts in Congress to hold investigative hearings on this issue.

I’m happy to say that our own Mayor Dellums was the first to publicly voice his support for providers and to strongly question the tactics of the DEA:

As the mayor of a city that believes in compassionate care, we support Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. We are discouraged to learn of the DEA’s actions that appear to be in opposition to the will of the residents of this city. Rep. Conyers, Chair of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, expressed deep concern over the DEA landlord threats and other efforts to undermine California law, and committed to sharply questioning these tactics as part of the committee’s oversight efforts. I am grateful for and supportive of Rep. Conyers’ concerns.

Dellums also sent a letter to Rep. Conyers, urging him to “expeditiously hold hearings and examine this very important issue.”

In the past, I’ve expressed some concern here about the Oakland PD assisting with medical marijuana raids and have questioned whether Oaklanders would stand up for medical marijuana in the case of a DEA attack so I was pretty ecstatic to see such strong movement from the Mayor’s office.

I think Dellums’ statement is a great step towards protecting safe access to medical marijuana for Oakland patients. Hopefully other mayors will follow his lead and push our federal representatives towards standing up for patients and California voters.

Doesn’t Oakland PD have something more important to do?

30 Oct

This morning, as I was pouring myself a cup of tea, I got a call: the DEA was raiding Compassionate Patients’ Cooperative, a medical marijuana dispensary in Hayward. After doing some work to get the word out, I hopped in my car and drove down to Hayward. I was greeted immediately by yellow police tape surrounding the building and representatives from practically every Bay Area media outlet. After doing a bunch of interviews, in which I highlighted the fact that this dispensary had been permitted by Alameda County and inspected regularly by the Sheriff with no complaints, I took a look around. I noticed that there were many Sheriff’s agents there, though I was soon assured by Supervisor Nate Miley’s office that they were just there for crowd control.

I observed the raid for several hours and joined 30 supporters in protesting the raid. Many of the protesters were patients who arrived at the dispensary to get their medicine and were shocked to see the DEA raiding the provider they depended on.

I also started to hear rumors of other raids. Soon, these rumors were confirmed: the DEA was busy raiding six production facilities throughout the East Bay that were connected to the dispensary.

It was already a bad day, but the news soon got worse. The Oakland Police Department and Berkeley Police Department were allegedly helping with the raids. Later in the day, we confirmed through a council member that OPD had helped the DEA raid at least one facility in Oakland. And later in the evening, I read in the U.S. Attorney’s press release that OPD, BPD, and the Alameda County Sheriff had been involved in the year-long investigation.

I don’t think anyone in this city would disagree that OPD is already short-staffed and unable to keep up with the real crime that occurs daily throguhout Oakland. So why are our police officers wasting their time helping the DEA raid a medical cannabis provider that was compliant with county law and paid significant sales tax to the state?

Maybe Oakland police are no better than the DEA and love to do an easy bust sometimes. Maybe they’ve tired of chasing down thieves and investigating murders and decided they’d have some fun today helping the DEA steal some medicine.

Regardless of why they wasted precious resources and staff time on these raids, it is important that this never happen again. California voters have spoken, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors have spoken, and Oakland has spoken through the City Council (regulation of dispensaries) and the voters (Measure Z – making marijuana the lowest police priority). It’s time for the Oakland PD to listen and to start finding some better ways to spend their time. Maybe they could even start doing their jobs and protecting us from real criminals.

(If you’d like to read more about the story, the Tribune did a pretty good job covering it, though they missed OPD’s involvement.)