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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: Was that move by the City of Oakland, in the end, a good thing?

RL: It was a political compromise. You’ve got to remember that back in 2003, when they first started working on ordinance Z the federal government was a lot bigger of a dark cloud hanging over everything, people were being busted by the FEDS. So to have the City Council, the Police Chief and the Mayor all sign our permits, and become our co-conspirators, it was a big boost forward, as far as the long term goes. There was a compromise. There were negative things to it, like they didn’t allow on-site consumption, which would be a very good thing for isolated patients who don’t have a lot of friends or places to get out, they don’t get a lot of chances to talk to other people with similar conditions as theirs; and that’s a really good thing for medical patients to be able to socialize. And the other thing that was a compromise was the strict zoning, the anti-cluster clause -- there were a lot of things we didn’t like; but there was one big thing that we did like, which was that they gave us the first permits in the Country for cannabis outlets. They set up a whole system -- treated us like a business. We’re not non-profit. It allows a reasonable profit is what the Oakland permit ordinance says, so Oakland is ahead of the state as well as the Country.

DH: Is Oakland the most progressive city in the country, as far as marijuana?

RL: Yep. I think so. I think because of people like Jeff Jones and myself, who have been here for 13 years working hard on this, and people like Nate Miley, Council Member, who is now the County Supervisor, but back then he was City Council. He really took the lead on those early days in the mid 90’s, passing resolutions in favor of medical marijuana for arthritis, things like that.

DH: There seems to be a lot of momentum toward legalization going on ... But what about the larger consciousness and attitudes? Because back in the 70s, we all thought drug repression was over and then, well we know what happened.

RL: No -- actually, if you look back at the poll numbers back then, they weren’t that high for legalization; the consumption rate was the highest in 1979, than it ever has been. That was the peak of the popularity of cannabis, I would say. But if you look at the voting public, it was never that high. Now is the first time we’ve ever had a majority -- just saw a 56% number that was in the polls for California, and one with 52% by Zogby for nation–wide which really needs to be confirmed by other polls, but that’s the first time we’ve ever seen that on a National poll.

DH: Let’s talk a little bit about your vision for Oaksterdam.

RL: It dovetails with the entertainment district. We’ve got beautiful Lake Merritt nearby with the paddleboats and sailboats. The old rowing house is being converted into a new restaurant ... so yeah -- it’s entertainment. Its jobs, and taxes, and tourism. And it is important to bring in other things like the glass blowing, art, artists; things like that. Just as Vegas now has Cirque du Soleil or the other entertainment that people go to; they don’t just go there for gambling anymore. That’s how Oakland needs to use the cannabis as part of the overall tourism mix and need to bring in other activities because eventually it is going to be legal everywhere and then it isn’t going to be as big of a tourism draw as it will be for the next five or ten years.

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