Economic Development

Raids on Oakland Medical Marijuana Businesses Spark Public Protest

Last year, medical marijuana dispensaries generated $1.4 million in tax revenue for Oakland, according to sources. Dominic Simpson on Flickr

This piece originally appeared on Oakland Local.

Hundreds of Oaklanders took to the street Monday morning to protest the DEA’s raid on two medical marijuana businesses, Oaksterdam University and Blue Sky Coffeeshop, as well as three properties rented by Richard Lee, Oaksterdam founder and longtime medical marijuana activist.

Oaksterdam and Blue Sky have now reopened since Monday’s raid, but their temporary closure sparked enormous outrage, as many Oaklanders feel the businesses are an integral part of the city.

Steve DeAngelo, the executive director of Harborside Health Center—another Oakland medical cannabis dispensary, which also has a San Jose location—issued a public statement regarding the raid later that day on Harborside’s website. It touched on the impact the loss of dispensaries in Oakland might have.

“Oakland’s successful system has provided safe access for patients, created hundreds of well-paying jobs, generated millions of dollars of tax dollars and reduced the burden on law enforcement,” he wrote. “It is a system that has benefited all Oaklanders, not just those who rely on cannabis for medicine.”

Last year, medical marijuana dispensaries generated 1.4 million in tax revenue for the city, according to David McPherson, the Revenue and Tax Administrator for the city of Oakland. Although Oaksterdam itself was not a dispensary, McPherson says it brought revenue to Oakland as well, as its students stayed in Oakland hotels, ate in Oakland’s restaurants and bought books through the university there.

However, the benefit to Oaklanders was not entirely fiscal, of course, as the medical services provided by the two dispensaries offered care to thousands of patients. Sara Zalkin, a former instructor at Oaksterdam and San Francisco-based lawyer felt the closures would have a strong impact on patients and Oaksterdam supporters.

“I imagine people who support Oaksterdam are going to feel even more disenfranchised and even more unimpressed with the federal government, who is supposed to be working on their behalf and representing them,” she said Tuesday evening. Zalkin, a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, has been a strong proponent of the legalization of medical marijuana during her professional career.

“To put it mildly, what went on yesterday [Tuesday] is a blatant sign of disrespect. It’s saying, ‘We don’t care what the situation is, we don’t care how much community support you have, we don’t care that you’re an activist in a wheelchair, you’re a prominent target and a symbol of everything that government and big businesses fear, so we’re going to exert power to show force and dominance.’ That seems like domestic terrorism to me, not like a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The provision of medicinal care in a safe and regulated way also benefits the downtown neighborhood’s level of public safety, as Jason Overman, the Communications Director for Councilwoman-at-large Rebecca Kaplan explained.

“We have folks who—Richard Lee is an example—who are working beyond just the taxation elements of it, who are working to create a more vibrant city,” said Overman in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Lee has served in the past as the chair of his neighborhood crime prevention council and is somebody who has been really active—not just somebody who owns a business downtown, but an active community leader who is trying to be an integral part of the community in which he lives and works.”

Indeed, Lee’s businesses do provide jobs—and soon Lee will be handing over the job of ownership of Oaksterdam and Blue Sky to a new person, as the Los Angeles Times reported today. As of today, Lee has not yet been charged. Oaksterdam and Blue Sky will remain open, although Oaksterdam will be scaling back classes somewhat.

Tags: economy, west coast, oakland, entrepreneurship, medical marijuana, nacdl, david mcpherson, oaksterdam university, dea, rebecca kaplan