Oakland Strives to Rejuvenate Economically by Becoming California’s Cannabis Capital

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The city Gertrude Stein famously dismissed as “no there, there” sees legal marijuana as an opening to address a host of inequities.

“Michelin stars and Big Architecture have come to Oakland, California., one of America’s most storied melting pots,” Travel + Leisure.

The birthplace of the Black Panther Party in 1966, today’s Oakland is home to another disruptive movement: cannabis. Some call Oakland the cannabis capital of California. Can it sustain that designation against Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco? And, is it a designation the population enjoys?

Well…the city and its relationship with weed goes way back and it looks like recent legislation may just cement it.

Pro Pot Legislation

California bit off a lot to chew when voters approved passage of Prop 64 in 2016. And, Sacramento is still struggling to meet the legislation’s mandates and related issues that have occurred since passage.

California Norml reports, “The state Assembly voted [June 2, 2017] 41-33 to approve a bill by Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (AB 1578) barring California law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal officials seeking to interfere with California’s marijuana laws.”

On April 4, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown offered a draft proposal to reconcile differences between the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) and the Adult Use Marijuana Act (AUMA). The differences are administrative and budgetary, but just the thing to slow bureaucratic decisions. At the time of this writing, at least 40 bills in various stages are before the Assembly. These are mostly well meaning or special interest refinements of language or amendments.

Prop 64 facilitates resentencing and expungement of records for perhaps hundreds of thousands convicted of nonviolatent marijuana crimes, improving their chance of finding jobs and purchasing guns. This has created a special interest issue in Oakland.

David Debolt, reporting for East Bay Times says, “Oakland ramped up its counterattack to the U.S. war on drugs, expanding its one-of-a-kind program to help people jailed for marijuana crimes enter the booming cannabis industry.” With city data indicating that African-Americans have been charged with marijuana crimes twice as frequently as white residents, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously in March to allocate 50 percent of medical marijuana and cannabis sales permits to people affected by the war on drugs.

According to Debolt, the decision specifically redefines “who is eligible for an equity permit. Besides Oakland residents arrested within the city for pot crimes dating back to 1996, the permits are available to residents living at least 10 of the past 20 years in police beats torn apart by the war on drugs. Their income must also be below 80 percent of the city’s average median income.”

Oakland’s decision to drive equity into the marijuana legislation assures minority ownership and seeks to compensate for discrimination against those affected by earlier laws.

Related: Senators Press Legislation to End DEA ‘Meddling’ In States That Legalize Medical Marijuana

Center of National Interest

One sure sign of Oakland’s place on the cannabis map is the series of plum cannabis events scheduled there. What’s important to note is that these are not free sample smoking events or festivals. They’re devoted to the business of cannabis and the economy it portends, the technology, financial investment and media advocacy.

The Cannabis Cultivation Summit met at the Marriot in March of this year, and the most recent National Cannabis Industry Association conference has emerged as a foundational event in cannabis space.

Attracting 5,200 attendees and 250 vendors this year, NCIA’s 4th Annual Cannabis Business Summit & Expo on June 12th to the 14th achieved “can’t miss” conference circuit status. Boasting a keynote address by Vincente Fox, former President of Mexico and current President of Coca-Cola Latin America, the conference provided a welcome perspective, revealing the magnitude of what’s become a global movement.

“Looking for innovation and new suppliers, NCIA pulled attendees from not only California and adjacent states, but across the US and internationally,” reflects Gary Cohen, CEO of Cova, a platform that modernizes cannabis retail outlets with interactive tablet menus, digital signage, and a fluid and intuitive point-of-sale system. “With nationwide cannabis legalization in Canada a year away and recently approved medicinal use underway in Germany, many foreign entrepreneurs made it to Oakland.”

Strong Cannabis Business Culture

Oakland is home to the first-ever cannabis business incubator, Gateway, that rocked the conventional Silicon Valley incubator scene when it opened in late 2015. The organization offers a program specifically designed to help grow leaders to become world-class cannabis entrepreneurs. Select startups that receive an upfront investment of $50,000 for 5% equity, at a $1,000,000 valuation. The program provides ongoing mentoring through a five-month curriculum, culminating in an investor demo day.

Want to learn all about cannabis? Oaksterdam University is your source for that kind of education, and it’s based in Oakland, too. A hybrid of “Oakland” and “Amsterdam,” the organization is much more than a school, it’s a movement, replete with a museum, club, and other amenities that make it prime for learning. Oaksterdam University offers comprehensive educational programs for almost every career interest in the cannabis industry. Since 1996, the organization’s faculty has been participating in writing laws and policy, then informing OU students about their risks and responsibilities.

Diversity in Cannabis

Oakland’s strong history of diversity lends itself to be an influential city in and around diversity in the cannabis industry. Speaking for The Hood Incubator, an Oakland business incubator for brown and black entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry, co-founder and co-director Ebele Ifedigbo calls the city “the epicenter.”

The Hood Incubator derives from a bold idea: build political and economic power for people of color in the legal marijuana industry through community organizing, policy advocacy, and economic development. The organization’s goal is to address two interrelated barriers black communities face in starting and scaling a formal cannabis business: lack of formal business experience and lack of access to capital. The program hosts an annual four-month, 100-hour intensive that facilitates participants’ transition from informal to formal cannabis operations by providing training and mentorship in partnership with the mainstream Oakland cannabis legal and business community.

In adopting its Cannabis Equity Program, the City of Oakland made a clear commitment to ensure access and equity in legal cannabis for communities most negatively impacted by the drug war. As a result, the city is now serving as a role model for other cities and communities around the country to learn from and replicate as they seek to ensure equity. “Oakland’s ongoing commitment to this issue has been critical in creating an environment conducive to our ability to grow the Hood Incubator model,” Ifedigbo continues.

Sophisticated and Innovative Dispensaries

Still waiting on a go from Sacramento to open recreational marijuana stores, OaklandMOFO reports, “The City of Oakland currently has 8 permitted Medical Marijuana Cannabis Dispensaries.” These sophisticated operations will likely house the first recreational marijuana dispensaries.

  • Harborside Health Center is a large enterprise at 1840 Embarcadero, Oakland. The NASADAQ Globe Newswire gave extensive coverage to Harborside’s ultimately victorious battles with California’s Attorney General, eventually quoting the New York Times: “Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif., is looked upon as a model of how others could operate.”
  • Blum Oakland boasts a Munchie Monday each week at its West Grand Avenue and Northgate Avenue location. They offer Top Grade and Mid-Grade menus, a Hash Bar, as well as edibles and topicals. And, they now offer 99 clones at bargain prices.
  • Magnolia Wellness sits at 161 Adeline Street with off-street parking and state that they are “proud to be a UFCW5 union shop.” They provide training and information online and in-store. Magnolia sponsors a food bank, compassion program, caregiver group and senior wellness group. They provide chiropractic and massage services to member patients. Additionally, they offer discounts, deals and schedule clone drops.
  • Purple Heart Patient Center (PHPC) at 415 4th Street is an award-winning dispensary serving medical patients since 2006. They boast of having safe and affordable access. PHPC has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. Typical of their community support was their $100,000 donation to a gun buy-back campaign in Oakland and Bay Area locations.
  • Oakland Organics sitting at 721 Broadway is a Natural Cannabis Company dispensary. It features celebrity High Life products. They promote, exhibit and sell contemporary art from community artists. As well, they offer membership in a High Society Club with gifts, samples, and discounts.

Oakland is also home to cannabis clubs in defiance of the federal crackdown on such venues. As OaklandMOFO says, “While others are shutting down Oakland has doubled the number of permitted clubs.”

If California is poised to become the center of the cannabis economy, Oakland may be its capital. As early as 2009, Jessica Bennett wrote in Newsweek, “Oakland has become a kind of test lab for what legalized marijuana might look like.” Its proximity to all parts of the Bay Area, Sonoma and Napa, Sacramento, as well as Mendocino puts it amid a dense population traditionally inclined to marijuana interests and to some of the best farming conditions in the country. Oakland’s drawing crowds and wowing its customers!

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