How Oakland Is Leading Marijuana Legalization
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How Oakland Is Leading Marijuana Legalization
Posted by CN Staff on October 16, 2009 at 07:18:13 PT
By Jessica Bennett, Newsweek Web Exclusive 
Source: Newsweek
California -- On the corner of Broadway and 17th Street in downtown Oakland, nudged between a Chinese restaurant and a hat shop, Oaksterdam University greets passersby with a life-sized cutout of Barack Obama and the sweet smell of fresh marijuana drifting from a back room. Inside, dutiful students flip through thick plastic binders of the day's lessons, which, on a recent Saturday began with "Pot Politics 101," taught by a ponytailed legal consultant who has authored a number of books on hemp. The class breaks for lunch around noon, and resumes an hour later, with classes on "budtending," horticulture and cooking, which includes a recipe for "a beautiful pot pesto." There are 50 students in this class, the majority of them Californians, but some have come all the way from Kansas. 
In between lectures, the university's founder, Richard Lee, 47, rolls in and out on his wheelchair greeting students, looking the part of a pot school dean in Converse sneaker, aviator glasses, and a green "Oaksterdam" T-shirt.Locals refer to the nine-block area surrounding the university as Oaksterdam—a hybrid of "Oakland" and the drug-friendly "Amsterdam," where marijuana has been effectively legal since 1976. Nestled among what was once a rash of vacant storefronts, Lee has created a kind of urban pot utopia, where everything moves just a little bit more slowly than the outside world. Among the businesses he owns are the Blue Sky Coffeeshop, a coffee house and pot dispensary where getting an actual cup of Joe takes 20 minutes but picking up a sack of Purple Kush wrapped neatly in a brown lunch bag takes about five. There's Lee's Bulldog Café, a student lounge with a not-so-secret back room where the haze-induced sounds of "Dark Side of the Moon" seep through thick smoke, and a glass blowing shop where bongs are the art of choice. Around the corner is a taco stand (Lee doesn't own this one) that has benefitted mightily from the university's hungry students.An education at Oaksterdam means learning how to grow, sell, market, and consume weed—all of which has been legal in California, for medicinal use only, since 1996. For the price of an ounce of pot and a couple of batches of brownies (about $250), pot lovers can enroll in a variety of weekend cannabis seminars all focused on medicinal use. But "medicinal" is something of an open joke in the state, where anyone over age 18 with a doctor's note—easy to get for ailments like anxiety or cramps, if you're willing to pay—can obtain an ID card allowing access to any of the state's hundreds of dispensaries, or pot shops. ("You can basically get a doctor's recommendation for anything," said one dispensary worker.) Not all of those dispensaries are legally recognized, however: there's a growing discrepancy over how California's laws mesh (or don't mesh) with local and federal regulations. But Oakland is unique in that it has four licensed and regulated dispensaries, each taxed directly by the city government. This past summer, Oakland voters became the first in the nation to enact a special cannabis excise tax—$18 for every $1,000 grossed—that the city believes will generate up to $1 million in the first year. Approved by 80 percent of voters, and unopposed by any organization, including law enforcement, the tax was pushed by the dispensary owners themselves, who hope the model will prove to the rest of California that a regulated marijuana industry can be both profitable and responsible. "The reality is we're creating jobs, improving the city, filling empty store spaces, and when people come down here to Oakland they can see that," says Lee, who smokes both recreationally and for his health, to ease muscle spasms caused by a spinal chord injury.The arguments against this kind of operation are easy to tick off: that it glamourizes marijuana, promotes a gateway drug, leads to abuse. Compared to more serious drugs like heroine, cocaine or even alcohol, studies have shown the health effects of marijuana are fairly mild. But there are still risks to its consumption: heavy pot users are more likely to be in car accidents; there have been some reports of it causing problems in respiration and fetal development. And, as the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, put it recently, there are a number of medical professionals, and many parents, who worry that the drug's increased potency over the years has heightened the risk of addiction. "It's certainly true that this is not your grandfather's pot," says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the Univerisity of California at Los Angeles.Nevertheless, like much of the country, Oakland is suffering economically. The city faced an $83 million budget deficit this year, and California, of course, is billions in the red. So from a public coffers perspective, if ever there were a time to rethink pot policy, that time is now. Already in Sacramento, there is a legalization measure before the state assembly that the author claims could generate $1.3 billion in tax revenue. And while analysts say it has little hope of passing (it faces strong opposition from law enforcement), the figures prompted even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who's vetoed every marijuana-related bill to come across his desk—to proclaimed that "It's time for a debate." On a federal level, marijuana is still illegal—it was outlawed, over the objections of the American Medical Association, in 1937. But in February, Attorney General Eric Holder stunned critics when he announced that the feds would cease raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that are authorized under state law. "People are no longer outraged by the idea of legalization," wrote former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown in a recent op-ed. "And truth be told, there is just too much money to be made both by the people who grow marijuana and the cities and counties that would be able to tax it."Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that the cost of cannabis prohibition is $13 billion annually, with an additional $7 billion lost in potential tax revenue. Even the students at Lee's Oaksterdam cite the job market as a reason for showing up: one man, there with his 21-year-old son, told NEWSWEEK he'd lost his business in the housing bust; another was looking for a way to supplement his income as a contractor. "Alcohol prohibition, the result of a century-long anti-alcohol crusade, was fairly quickly repealed in part because of the onset of the Great Depression," says Craig Reinarman, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz and the coauthor of Crack in America. "I think we're in a similar situation now, where states are so strapped for money that any source of new revenue is going to be welcomed."Oakland has become a kind of test lab for what legalized marijuana might look like. City Council member Rebecca Kaplan tells NEWSWEEK that the new tax revenue will help save libraries, parks, and other public services, and that the once-destitute area where Oaksterdam now thrives has seen a clear boost. Over the past six years, 160 new businesses have moved into downtown Oakland, and the area's vacancy rate has dropped from 25 percent to less than 5, according to Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency. And while that can't be attributed to Oaksterdam directly, some local business owners believe it's played a key role—particularly as it relates to local tourism. Lee hosts 500 students at Oaksterdam University each month—about 20 percent of them from out of state—and has graduated nearly 4,000 since he opened the school in late 2007, inspired by a "cannabis college" he discovered on a trip to Amsterdam. The Blue Sky Coffeeshop serves about 1,000 visitors a day, half of them from out of town, and neighboring stores say the traffic has helped drive business their way. Regulation, say advocates, has also made consumption safer. They say it gets rid of hazardous strains of the drug, and eliminates the crime that can accompany underground dealing.Presently, 13 states allow medical marijuana, with similar legalization campaigns underway in more than a dozen others. And a number of cities, such as Oakland and Seattle, have passed measures making prosecution of adult pot use the lowest law enforcement priority. Now Lee, along with an army of volunteers, has begun collecting signatures for a statewide legalization measure (for Californians 21 and over) that he plans to place on the November 2010 ballot. Backed by former state Senate president Don Perata, he's already collected a fourth of the needed 434,000 signatures, and pledged to spend $1 million of his own funds to support the effort.In California, where voters rule, getting an amendment on the ballot doesn't take much more than a fat wallet, but the amount of attention Lee's campaign has received has drawn attention to just how far American attitudes have changed over the past decade. In April, an ABC/Washington Post survey showed that 46 percent of Americans support legalization measures, up from 22 percent in 1997. And in California, a recent Field Poll showed that 56 percent are already on board to legalize and tax the drug. "This is a new world," says Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley and the coauthor of Drug War Heresies. "If you'd have asked me four years ago whether we'd be having this debate today, I can't say I would have predicted it."The fact that we now are debating it—at least in some parts of the country—is the result of a number of forces that, as MacCoun puts it, have created the perfect pot storm: the failure of the War on Drugs; the growing death toll of murderous drug cartels; pop culture; the economy; and a generation of voters that have simply grown up around the stuff. Today there are pot television shows and frequent references to the drug in film, music, and books. And everyone from the president to the most successful athlete in modern history has talked about smoking it at one point or another. "Whether it's the economy or Obama or Michael Phelps, I think all of these things have really worked to galvanize the public," says Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the coauthor of a new book, Marijuana Is Safer; So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"At the very least, it's started a national conversation."That conversation, in some sense, has always existed. In 1972—a year after President Nixon declared his "War on Drugs"—the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse urged Congress to decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. That never happened, in part because marijuana regulation has always been more about politics than actual science, say advocates. But these days, the masses, at least in California, seem to be heading toward greener, shall we say, pastures. "This is sort of the trendy thing to do right now, but I also think there's an expectation that the time has come to simply acknowledge the reality," says Armentano. "Hundreds of thousands of Californians use marijuana, and we should regulate this commodity like we do others." It's a fight that's heating up. And the pro-pot crowd in Oakland is ready to light the way.With Jennifer MolinaSource: Newsweek (US)Author:  Jessica Bennett, Newsweek Web Exclusive Published: October 15, 2009 Copyright: 2009 Newsweek, Inc.Contact: letters newsweek.comWebsite: http://www.newsweek.comURL: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #12 posted by FoM on October 17, 2009 at 10:54:26 PT
Just Something Nice
Susan Boyle's first album is number 2 in Amazon's list and it won't be out until the end of November.
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Comment #11 posted by FoM on October 17, 2009 at 10:33:30 PT
Storm Crow 
Thank you. I can't seem to find out how to related to Conservatives. I am a heart type person and it has gotten me this far in life. I don't use people but try to find a quality in every person. When I search a person's personality and can't find what I understand I am at a loss. We had a long time friend come out to visit last week. He is big in motorcycle racing on the management end and was a big time biker dude when he was young before he had a family. He said to me that I have flowers growing out of my ears. I laughed and we kept talking and a little later he said some nice heartfelt things and I said stop look I think you now have flowers growing out your ears and I got a big smile out of him. 
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Comment #10 posted by Sam Adams on October 17, 2009 at 10:25:57 PT
one more thing..."Marijuana" is REALLY gettin
Doesn't the first sentence with its "fresh marijuana" really jump out at you? It sounds absolutely silly.No cannabis user ever uses the word "marijuana". Seriously, when is the last time you used this word in speaking? It's a dirty rascist slur word.Imagine being at an upscale event with your wife and saying to your friend "hey Jim, Sue and I really enjoy you and Ann's company. Why don't you and the little slut come over for a nice dinner sometime"?that is what it sounds like to me when marijuana is used in regular speech. It's a hateful word. Latino people in the US should be outraged about the word "marijuana"We ARE making progess though, even this article is starting to use the word cannabis, when they talk about Miron's work.We'll know it's really over when the mainstream media completely drops the word "marijuana" from their lexicon.
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Comment #9 posted by Sam Adams on October 17, 2009 at 10:21:07 PT
decent article
>>>Needing to debate ending prohibition at this point is like debating whether it makes more sense to get in a lifeboat or stay on the Titanic.So true! My thought as I read this. How can anyone still be "debating" this? It's absurd. To think prohibtion makes sense you've got to be a thoughtless, brainwashed drone, incapable of reasoning or forming coherent thoughts.The government always wants to "debate" this, their race-encoded propaganda has been all they needed for 100 years to carry on this ridiculous, oppressive, cruel boondoggle.Bill Maher has pointed our recently that most of our problems come from a dumb and/or crazy 30% of the population. About 30% listen to Glenn Beck, Limbaugh & company, 30% believe that Obama is not an American, etc. 30% believe strict Adam&Eve "creation" in the face of everything they've been taught in school for 20 years.The political class (LEO, lawyers, prison workers, etc) has always relied on 2 things to maintain prohibition: the moral outrage (totally illogical) of the dumb-ass 30%, and a compliant media to print only their views and the opinions of the political class.The 30% dumbasses will always be there, the political class is still talking reefer madness. It's breaking down because so many of us have used cannabis, and the internet has blown the lid off the propaganda for over 10 years now. The media now knows this and they know they look like fools if they continue to tow the line on reefer madness.
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Comment #8 posted by Storm Crow on October 17, 2009 at 10:00:56 PT
FoM... comment #7
You sure got that right!
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Comment #7 posted by FoM on October 17, 2009 at 05:42:29 PT
Conservatives From My Point of View
I personally find the way Conservatives think to be alien to my value structure. I have noticed that money seems to be what is important to them. For me being a good person and caring for people and fixing immoral laws keeps me going. Conservatives seem to be for more taxes and government control while I believe Cannabis should be free and grown like any garden plant or medicinal herbs.
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Comment #6 posted by EAH on October 16, 2009 at 21:12:07 PT:
Do conservatives even know or understand why they are against ending prohibition? It's an idea that is conceptually closely aligned with fundamental conservative ideology, except for oh yeah, in the 60s, anti war protesters and counterculture icons were associated with it. Well that and there's lots of money to be made in the prison-industrial complex.
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Comment #5 posted by runruff on October 16, 2009 at 15:39:19 PT
Cosmic ironica!
It is easy to claim the earth is flat, a bit of a problem to prove it!It is easy to claim that cannabis is dangerous, a bit of a problem to prove it!It is easy to claim that cannabis naysayers are suffering from methane poisoning, period!
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Comment #4 posted by dongenero on October 16, 2009 at 13:49:09 PT
debate cannabis
Conservatives only call for debate on an issue when they are in a position of weakness. Their interest in debating cannabis is disingenuous. They have no good faith interest in debating the issue, nor in any form of legalization. A debate on the issue is clearly not to the benefit of their ideological interests. Indefensible lies and myths are on their side as are complacency regarding civil liberties.If they can hold an issue off until they are again in a position of power, then they win and can maintain status quo or simply ignore a problem. At that point, their interest in debate would end. That is how we have been burdened with some 70 years of this ridiculous policy.I believe when they start calling for debate on this particular issue, it's time for the coup de grace. After this many decades of insanity, no further debate is required, action is.
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Comment #3 posted by Hope on October 16, 2009 at 13:28:17 PT
She didn't say it was bad.
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Comment #2 posted by EAH on October 16, 2009 at 12:33:16 PT:
Needing to debate ending prohibition at this point is like debating whether it makes more sense to get in a lifeboat or stay on the Titanic.
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Comment #1 posted by HempWorld on October 16, 2009 at 09:22:11 PT
Is bad! Weren't the founding fathers and including Benjamin Franklin also 'ponytailed' ?Go Richard!
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