Oakland, California has the chance to become “the Amsterdam of the West Coast”. Click [continue] to read a story from the San Francisco Chronicle about an emerging hipster neighborhood in downtown Oakland that is being nicknamed “Oaksterdam” – a 3 block area that hosts eight, count ‘em eight, medical marijauna clubs.
Last December I stumbled onto the Bull Dog Cafe on Broadway in Oakland which is the cafe/pot club they describe in the article. Once I figured out the place’s real purpose, I was thrilled that it even existed! I saw the “Oaksterdam” tshirts and have lusted after one ever since.
Wouldn’t it be cool to hang out in Amsterdam-style “coffeehouses” without having to travel to Europe? Thank you Mayor (and former Governor) Moonbeam! Toursits, please visit Oakland NOW before it it becomes Disney-fied.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2003/08/10/POTCLUB.TMP
Oakland district evolves into cannabis community
Rona Marech, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2003
The blocky bouncer stands guard outside the Oakland cafe, complete with a copper espresso machine, fancy chocolates, elegant glass lights and a European air.
Pedestrians may unknowingly wander in and order coffee, but the tip-off comes when, sorry, the food options are limited or access to the downstairs lounge is politely denied. The main thing on the menu here is medical marijuana.
Suddenly, the bouncer’s T-shirt makes more sense: The word stretched across his broad chest reads “Oaksterdam.”
The name “Oaksterdam” is arrived at by mixing the names of cannabis-tolerant Amsterdam and Oakland, and the downtown district near the 19th Street BART station is now home to eight medical marijuana clubs. One such club is a new three-story dispensary on Telegraph Avenue that owner Ken Estes says will eventually house an organic food cafe, along with an on-site chiropractor, acupuncturist and a doctor.
Apparently the first of its kind in the United States, this cannabis community offers a range of services. Patients can pick up city-sanctioned patient identification cards, purchase $550 lung-friendly inhalers that allow the medicine to be vaporized rather than smoked, get marijuana-growing equipment or buy cannabis in any form, from green buds to lollipops.
“San Francisco and Oakland have Chinatown and Japantown. Now we’re going to have pot town. Better yet, hemp town,” said Randy Csongor, the manager of Best Collateral pawn shop, which sits in the middle of medical marijuana row.
Club owners are circumspect about where they get their product, which they sell to patients at prices ranging from $50 an ounce to more than $400 an ounce for the highest grade.
The dispensary owners — who acquire the usual business licenses but no other official permits for cannabis distribution — are caught in an uncomfortable legal position. The city and state says they are legal under Proposition 215, the medical marijuana compassionate use initiative that California voters passed in 1996.
But the federal government says the clubs are operating illegally. Federal agents have staged pot club raids and pursued high-profile activists such as Oakland resident Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted in a controversial trial earlier this year for cultivating marijuana.
The jury, however, was not allowed to hear evidence related to Rosenthal’s assertion that the city of Oakland had “deputized” him as part of its medical marijuana program. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sentenced him to one day in jail, which Rosenthal had already served. But in July, federal prosecutors signaled they would ask an appeals court to increase Rosenthal’s sentence. The government did not explain on what grounds they intended to appeal.
Greg Underwood, a special agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said, “If we are investigating them, I can’t comment on any open investigations . . . . The only thing I can say is that marijuana is what we consider a Schedule I drug, which means it’s illegal to use and the federal government does not make any distinction for medical marijuana.”
Estes, whose front-room eatery at the 420 cafe so far consists of an empty room, a fan and an “Open” sign, says: “Unfortunately, we have one foot in the illegal world and one foot in the legal world. We’re trying to get both in legal world.”
Some of the Oaksterdam clubs do not have phone numbers or even signage; one is jokingly called “Parking in Rear,” a reference to the only sign posted on the storefront. Others have the appearance of a sterile nurse’s office — with a few extra television monitors — and still others seem like ordinary cafes with umbrellas and dainty tables out front.
The clubs’ shadowy status is also apparent on paper: One proprietor’s business card lists his job title as “coffeeshopkeeper;” another dispensary’s glossy, postcard-size advertisement reads “a different kind of chocolateria.” And though owners are eager to speak about their concern for patients and show how professional their businesses are, of those approached, only Estes would speak on the record, an indication of just how tenuous their situation is.
“I see the people running those clubs as modern-day heroes,” said Keith Stroup, founder and executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a public interest lobby in Washington, D.C. He’s visited the neighborhood and even has his own Oaksterdam T-shirt.
“It does remind me of Amsterdam. It’s certainly the closest thing we have in this country to what they have in Amsterdam,” he said. “I think there’s nothing quite like that in the United States.”
The difference here is that only people with doctor’s recommendations and official IDs can get through the door, he said, adding that the proliferation of the clubs is an expression of the public will and attitude.
Indeed, the pot district has been cultivated with the help of reasonable rents, access to public transit and a relatively low-key attitude of the city government and the Police Department. And mellow seems to be the reigning mood among shopkeepers and pedestrians here.
To be sure, a couple of people had concerns about the clubs’ customers hogging parking spots or certain clubs getting too loose and easy with identification cards.
Robert Williams, the deputy director of the Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County (SMAAC), complained that smoke was seeping into their office, which is wedged between two clubs. Staff members have been approached by people on the street about buying marijuana, he said. They’re particularly concerned because, “some of our young people are at risk for substance use.”
Joe DeVries, field director to Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, said he found SMAAC’s complaints disingenuous. “Nancy Nadel’s office was trying to mediate problems between his program and the clubs,” he said. Matters seemed to be resolved when, he said, “all of the sudden, you’re going to the media.”
In fact, the neighborhood reaction to Oaksterdam, by and large, fell somewhere on a spectrum from indifference (and ignorance) to downright enthusiasm.
“We love them, we love them!” said Mario Paceppi, the owner of the Fat Cat Cafe who has a medical marijuana recommendation for acid reflux and gastrointestinal problems. With the new crop of clubs joining long-existing ones — including the flagship Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Cooperative, which sells cannabis-related wares and distributes ID cards but no longer sells marijuana — the area has been revitalized and is cleaner and safer, he said.
“Because there are more eyes out. When it was more desolate, there were all sorts of horrible stuff going on.” Plus — jokes about marijuana-induced munchies aside — patients and club employees regularly stop in for lunch.
“That’s the only thing pushing the economy down there,” he said.
“Any kind of business is business,” Csongor said at the pawn shop, dryly noting that “there are more people going in there than McDonald’s.
“It hasn’t caused any problems. No fights, no riots, no outbreaks. Nothing like that. It could be dressmakers over there, it wouldn’t be any different,” Csongor said.
“These things have just grown up without any great public fanfare, so obviously, this has to be looked at carefully,” said Mayor Jerry Brown. “Californians are strongly in support of medicinal marijuana; compassionate aide to people who are truly sick. But the big question is, what is the proper method of distribution and how should it be regulated?” One of his inspectors is working on a report for the City Council, he said.
But other city officials have known about and supported the cannabis clubs.
Joel Tena, a constituent liaison for Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, whose district includes Oaksterdam, said: “We see the medical marijuana dispensaries as enhancing the neighborhood. We know here in city of Oakland that medical marijuana is literally something that keeps people alive. We want to make sure it’s available if they need it.”
If the Oakland Police Department isn’t quite so gung-ho, officers nonetheless have stuck firmly to a laissez-faire policy.
Lt. Edward Poulson, the commander overseeing the Oaksterdam area — he laughed when he heard the term for the first time from a reporter — said he’s received some complaints about littering, loitering, smoking in public, parking and people who buy the medicine legally, then sell it secondhand on the street.
Also, in a few cases, customers have been robbed leaving the premises, he said. But he pointed out that leaving a bank with cash is arguably a similar risk and most of the complaints have centered around a particular club, which he did not want to name.
“It’s like a nightclub or the bar scene,” he said. “It’s not how many you have, but how they operate.”
Police Chief Richard Word said: “I’m not opposed to medicinal marijuana, but there needs to be some structure to this . . . . There has to be some rhyme or reason about where these things are so the city can say this is OK or this is not OK. That’s clear this has to happen.”
But club owners say — and patients confirm — that clustering is helpful to customers because it means they have more choice in quality and price. Those who don’t care to (or can’t) inhale, for example, can shop around to find pot teas or cooking butter; if one dispensary’s wares aren’t helping with chronic pain, maybe they’ll have better luck next door.
“It’s not like plastic toys, it’s fresh produce,” said one cannabis club employee.
Kristen Baumgartner, 22, who just completed chemotherapy treatment for bone cancer and said cannabis helped reduce nausea and stimulate her appetite, strolled out of a club on a recent afternoon with a $405 ounce.
“It’s great for it to be in one area . . . . It’s a community.” said Curtis Thomas, 32, who got a prescription for marijuana because of a work-related wrist injury. “If it continues this way, it’s going to be a boon for Oakland.”
Thomas said he picks his dispensary of the day largely based on cost, but “I do sometimes go according to my mood.” For an in-and-out job, he’ll head to one spot, but “if I want to go to a nice lounge with tile floors” and a “speakeasy” atmosphere, he’ll head somewhere else.
Some might argue that clubs are spelling their own doom by opening so close together, but one club employee said it’s good for business, comparing it to Las Vegas and the clump of casinos there. Inevitably, trash-talking goes on, he said, but mostly the competition is friendly.
“We’re all fighting for same cause,” Estes said, “and we all would like to see each other make it.”