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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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DH: What about the urban legend of cigarette companies patenting the names of legendary pot strains. Is that true?

RL: I don’t know. I don’t care, If they all get on our side to legalize pot that would be more power to em’. That’d be great to have them on our side instead of fighting against us. Lobbies that are against us are the alcohol and pharmaceuticals because we’re in competition. Like I said; I see it as a war between drugs: it’s the alcohol axis powers vs. the cannabis-hemp allied forces.

DH: What about jobs? Everybody talks about green jobs. Isn’t this a way to have green jobs?

RL: Definitely ... and there are a lot of jobs that are already there, but they are not above ground. There are no income taxes being paid, no workman’s comp insurance, no unemployment insurance. The big deal is to get these businesses that are currently cash, underground businesses, above ground. People don’t have the social safety net that they would if they were in a regular job. That’s what we (Oaksterdam Univ. etc. ) do, by the way. We have health insurance; we have 43 employees now who have health and dental. We pay about $300,000 in sales tax every year and about a half a million on all our payroll income taxes combined.

DH: Is anybody making the green jobs argument?

RL: Nah ... It’s been a big breakthrough just to get people to talk about pot and Oaksterdam. The media has changed just lately to take the issue seriously, and the economic benefits seriously -- that’s been the first thing. I’m just trying to get the direct sales tax numbers out there. But the other thing is the other indirect taxes and businesses that will be legitimized and spring up from the cannabis business. When I go to Amsterdam, I spend more on hotels, airfare, food and taxis than I do on cannabis and seeds. When people go to the Blue Sky Coffee Shop and they get smoothies, or whatever -- that’s the kind of business that can be created for tourism. California can be first before the rest of the country, much like Las Vegas and Atlantic City preceded the Lotteries and River Boat Gambling. I see that as a big thing. It’s going to be a big tourism draw and you got all those ancillary or indirect taxes in business that will be created from it -- and the suppliers. For example: Say you go to grow some -- you’re getting paid in cash for your cannabis; then you’re going to pay your suppliers in cash; but if you’re getting paid with a check -- then you’re going to pay them a check and they are all going to pay their taxes. We’re all legit. It’s all business. We estimate it’s like a ten to one ratio of revenue for other spending. If you look at other economic models that show how much gambling promotes other Las Vegas business; it’s like a ten to one ratio.

DH: And you see tourists coming to Oakland now because of Oaksterdam?

RL: Well, we’ve been doing this for a long time here. Oaksterdam’s staff has been going strong for about 13 years since Jeff Jones first opened. We’ve been drawing in over a thousand people a day for years. So it’s really nothing new. In fact, Oaksterdam was even bigger back in the early 2000’s. From about 2001 to 2004 there was about ten cannabis outlets in the area and then when the city issued permits in 2004, they only issued permits to four and they put in an anti-cluster clause, which caused everybody but us to move out of the area. So it used to be even bigger than it was. We used to be bringing in three or four thousand for a couple of years. We’ve already done it; tested it out -- it all works. Now we just have to redo it under adult legalization instead of medical so it’s more above ground and honest.

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