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Legal Pot in California in 2010? "Oaksterdam" Provides the Model

Pot entrepreneur Richard Lee envisions a professional marijuana industry much like the one that exists in Amsterdam.

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Besides Oaksterdam U, which appears to be thriving, Leestarted the Bulldog Cafe (named after a famous collection of Amsterdam coffeehouses), and owns a pot growing and equipment store where there are a range of high tech machines for making hash, and powerful microscopes for a super enhanced view of the beauty of the pot plant -- in this case "white widow" which the crystals in the pot plant give off a jewel like glow. Near by is a cannabis novelty store with hundreds of cool and corny pot tschockes, T-shirts and the like, soon to be a cannabis museum (like the one in Amsterdam, of course), Lee also has a glass blowing studio and an advertising agency-- all the better to promote his varied operations (e.g. Lee advertises for Oaksterdam U. at concerts at the Shoreline Amphitheatre.) And finally, la piece de resistance, a pot growing warehouse, with many dozens of beautiful and pungent green plants thriving under the warm glow of grow lights. Lee proudly points out his specialties including "white rhino" and "casey jones" -- which are sold at the Blue Sky Cafe, his medical pot dispensary, a block away.

While visiting the Blue Sky, I hear testimony from a woman who owns a shop next store, who is eager to share how her business has grown with the new found traffic to the dispensary. All of this is designed to show that cannabis business can be a popular and responsible business model that can help transform downtown Oakland, which while improving, can certainly use more of a boost. I sat down with Lee to discuss both the big picture of pot and drug politics, as well as his experience in Oakland, creating a visionary model for creative cannabis thinking:

Don Hazen: Gil Kerlikowske, Obama’s new drug czar, said the concept of the war against drugs -- that we are at war with our own people -- must end. Were you surprised by that?

Richard Lee: No, but I think it’s easy to say it; it’s another thing to actually do it. So hopefully it’s a first step, a change of attitude from more of a ‘police law enforcement to help’ approach, which would be a good thing.

It’s like what Ethan Nadleman ( head of the Drug Policy Alliance) says; significant drug reform is like turning around a super tanker ... .but the point is that it is starting to turn. You don’t expect it to turn around on a dime; there’s lots to it. From my perspective it’s a war between drugs, and it is drugism -- which is, people thinking that their drug is better than other peoples. It is like racism -- people thinking their race is better than other people’s race. Here people discriminate based on their substance of choice. The alcoholic drinkers think they’re better than cannabis consumers.

Just like racism didn’t end with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, drugism won’t end with cannabis legalization. We’ve built up a whole generation of hate and prejudice. You have cops who still say “we don’t believe in medical marijuana, we don’t care how many people vote for it, how you change the laws; we’re going to do what we believe in,” and changing that is going to take quite a long time.

DH: So what is pushing the change? Is it that the states need revenue, there are going to be fewer cops, less people in prison, people want to put a crimp in their Mexican Cartels which benefit from pot being illegal in the States?

RL: Mexico just decriminalized pot -- did you hear about that?

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