Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Oakland's Noble Pot Experiment

CN BC: Column: Oakland's Noble Pot Experiment
URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v05/n563/a04.html
Newshawk: CMAP http://www.mapinc.org/cmap
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Webpage: http://www.canada.com/vancouver/vancouversun/news/westcoastnews/story.html?id=ca5d452f-c94
Pubdate: Tue, 05 Apr 2005
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 The Vancouver Sun
Contact: sunletters@png.canwest.com
Website: http://www.canada.com/vancouver/vancouversun/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/477
Author: Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun
Cited: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws http://www.norml.org
Cited: Cannabis Consumer Campaign http://www.cannabisconsumers.org/
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?115 (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/decrim.htm (Decrim/Legalization)

OAKLAND'S NOBLE POT EXPERIMENT

San Francisco Area Takes Leadership Role in the Fight for Saner Drug Policies in U.S.

OAKLAND, Calif. - I emerged from the BART subway station squinting into the sunlight glinting off a red Ferrari ostentatiously parked outside the Cannabis Buyer's Co-op. The licence plate read: "Growhydroponics com."

Inside the co-op there was the usual head-shop collection of vapourizers, rolling papers, lighters, paraphernalia and hemp products. Those with a doctor's recommendation or a recognized cannabis-patient card -- good across the state -- can also buy from a menu of cannabis products -- kif, several strains of marijuana, hashish and selection of edibles.

Next door, the hydroponic shop offers equipment and advice on growing.

Two doors down is the Bulldog Cafe -- named after one of the legendary coffeeshops in Amsterdam that successfully challenged the Netherlands' pot prohibition policies in the mid-1970s.

Here, recreational users can order from a menu of cannabis products, sit and enjoy a cappuccino and a smoke.

Prices are about twice what they are in Vancouver -- an eighth of an ounce of good stinky sold for $40 US -- about $48 Cdn-- less potent weed for $30 US -- about $36 Cdn -- plus state sales tax, of course.

"It's called goo," Richard Lee, the owner, told me holding up the crystal-encrusted bud of marijuana that smelled of citrus and sandalwood. "As good as any of your B.C. Bud."

From his wheelchair in a small room behind an appropriate Dutch door, he dispensed the pot in small glassine bags and the edibles packaged in appropriately satirical wrappings -- Kiefkat, Indo' Joy, Stoners, Reefers... There was chocolate milk infused with THC ( the most active psychotropic chemical in marijuana ) as well as cheesecakes laced with pot.

"We're trying to be low-key responsible neighbours and so far it's working out well," Lee said. "We're celebrating our fifth anniversary."

Throughout this downtown neighbourhood are similar outlets, the oldest dating back to the early 1990s, the co-op to 1995. They call it Oaksterdam. Across California there is a growing network of medical marijuana dispensaries and clubs using the state's constitutional privacy rights to keep police at bay.

Believe it or not, there are an estimated 60,000 registered medical marijuana users -- some 20,000 in the Bay area -- and more than 100 pot outlets, some offering more than 60 strains of the demon weed.

Lee has been at the forefront of the fight that established this marijuana-friendly enclave in the belly of a country whose federal government is engaged in a jihad against the drug.

Forget what you have heard about Vansterdam -- our town is well behind the Bay area in terms of access to medical marijuana and tolerance of recreational pot consumers. Forget, too, what you hear about the U.S. being so afraid of Ottawa liberalizing our laws.

The U.S. federal administration is desperately trying to maintain a worldwide pot prohibition.

But a dozen states already have decriminalized possession and moved to protect medical users from prosecution. Another handful currently have marijuana initiatives on their political agenda.

Over the weekend some 500 primarily American members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws were in San Francisco to celebrate the advances on the eve of a much-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court ruling on medical marijuana.

The acme, in my opinion, is Oakland, where cannabusiness is hailed as the catalyst for urban renewal in a once blighted neighbourhood and the working model that led to the passage Nov. 6 of Measure Z -- the Oakland Cannabis Regulation and Revenue Ordinance. Electors voted by 65 per cent to tolerate private adult sales, cultivation and possession of cannabis with envisioned regulated retail sales and smoking dens.

It's a noble experiment, though to truly enact such a policy requires changes to state and probably federal law.

"This is just the beginning," said Mikki Norris, who leads the Cannabis Consumer Campaign, a lobby group advocating a legalize, tax-and-regulate approach. "The debate is finally moving in the right direction."

Her group believes the state could save $150 million or so in enforcement costs and raise an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue.

The question, though, is whether pot opponents here will be able to attack the initiative and defeat it the way Vancouver shut the Da Kine Cafe retail pot outlet and dampened optimism among pot users here that liberalization is on the horizon.

Ethan Nadelmann, who travels the world on billionaire George Soros' nickel stumping for saner drug policies, and a key player in Vancouver's so-called Four Pillar approach, thinks what happens in Oakland will depend on pot users.

"San Francisco has a leadership role now," he said. "But people must be responsible. Don't be a target. Be a place we want to bring people to show them what works, not a place for their side to bring people and say look at this disaster."