Poor Roosevelt Mosby is just a big lovable queen who wants to do right by the 1,300 queer youth who come to his downtown Oakland community center. But the recent explosion of medical cannabis clubs nearby is creating an unsafe environment for his kids, a neighborhood where people on the street offer drugs to his teens, and one club was the scene of a recent armed robbery. And now Mosby has been "forced out" of the neighborhood. All because of the pot clubs and the sketchy scene they've ushered into the neighborhood now known as Oaksterdam.
At least, that's the story the Chronicle and the Tribune have reported in recent months. Three prominent medical cannabis activists have since come forward with a decidedly different, and somewhat disturbing, version of events. They claim that since October, Mosby has demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars from the pot clubs to buy a building somewhere in Oakland. Two of these activists claim that shortly after they failed to meet his demands, Mosby urged federal drug authorities to investigate the neighborhood, even offering assistance. And this newspaper has acquired a recording of a voicemail Mosby left earlier this month, in which he tells a cannabis activist her offer of $10,000 isn't good enough, that the federal government is interested in talking to him, and that he would give her a deadline of January 15.
The trouble first started in August, when Mosby -- who runs the Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County Youth Center -- held a press conference and published an op-ed piece in the Tribune, in which he claimed that his young clients "have been approached by cannabis club members seeking to resell the prescription they just obtained," and that his center was "drowning in a sea of medical marijuana dispensaries and the characters these dispensaries attract."
As Mayor Jerry Brown ordered an investigation into the clubs, their leaders tried to make peace with Mosby, who had started claiming publicly that the neighborhood was no longer safe for his kids, and that he would have to move to a different part of the city. In a series of meetings beginning in October, activists met with Mosby and offered to help raise funds to finance his move -- and even to move the center's furniture themselves.
But behind closed doors, activists claim, they saw another side to Mosby. According to Angel Raich, a patient and medical cannabis activist who attended the meetings, Mosby demanded that the club owners give him the down payment for the massive San Pablo Avenue building he had his eye on. And if they didn't give him the money, Raich claims, Mosby threatened to further denounce them in the press -- and even contact the federal government. "They basically wanted to buy a building, not rent," Raich says. "The building they wanted was the old creamery building. They were talking hundreds of thousands. They said it several times. ... They not only threatened us with the feds, they threatened to call the media if we did not give them money."
Jeff Jones, executive director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, also attended the meetings and concurs that Mosby demanded money. "I'm trying to work with him, and what he's allowed me to do is only give him money," Jones says. "Outside of that, he doesn't want to talk to us." And Clare Lewis, who represents the Uptown Merchants Association, an umbrella group of pot clubs and regular businesses, claims Mosby reserved the right to badmouth them in the press, even in the midst of negotiations: "He said, 'I found a building, and I need money,'" she claims. "Money was raised, but the cannabis community requested that he quit destroying us in the press. He said, 'Well, I have to do what's best for my kids. '"
Negotiations soon broke down, and in December, Mosby drafted a letter to John Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. "We implore you to immediately visit Oakland, California, to assess a situation that has gotten out of hand and that the local officials are doing nothing to address," Mosby wrote. "Young people and narcotics is an unholy mixture that we believe must be addressed today and since our local officials are reluctant to act decisively, we are hoping you will see value in protecting society's most vulnerable members and act today. ... Please call us to discuss your visit. We will personally give you a tour of this community."
The following month, Lewis approached Mosby and asked to make peace. She offered to raise as much as $15,000 for him, and in return, she claims, Mosby offered a "week of truce." A few days later, Lewis told one of Mosby's colleagues she hadn't been able to raise that much money yet. On January 14, he left her a voicemail message.
"Hi Clare, this is Roosevelt," he said. "Let me just tell you what I heard from Brian, that you got $10,000. Clare, that don't come near to where we need to be. And so I'm going to give you till tomorrow, for us to talk tomorrow. But people, I have put off people from the news media. ... I have heard back from the White House; they have some things that they want me to do, and I have not talked to them. I won't talk to them because of what my word has been to you. But I've got to raise this money, and I cannot. What you all have decided was that you all cannot help to [get us] even close to where we need to be. So certainly, we're gonna try to be harmless to the cannabis clubs. But we got to cause some friction in this community to try to get the money up."
Mosby claims his voicemail was intended as a harmless plea to get the cannabis clubs to help him get money from the city council. He acknowledges writing to the White House, but denies ever trying to secure money from Lewis or making any threats to Lewis or the pot club operators. In fact, he claims this message was just part of an ongoing conversation about how the clubs can best help his organization. "This is very ugly, it is very ugly," he says. "People asked us, what did we need? We always told them we didn't believe that this was their job; this is the city's responsibility. And they now turning it on us, that we are demanding -- this is just ugly.
"She asked me in January, when she met up with me, could we go into peace?" Mosby continues. "That means that I wouldn't call nobody, that I wouldn't talk to the federal government, and see what we can do together, and work together as cannabis clubs and SMAAC, to build community and make sure we get to move. That's what she asked of me. I said, 'Okay, Clare, I can do that.' We waited a week, she came back, she said, 'I got $5,000.' I said, 'Well, Clare, you saw what we need. '"
Mosby is right about one thing -- this story is very ugly. Driven in part by this bizarre squabble, the council is scheduled to finally impose regulations on the pot clubs, including limiting their number to four, requiring business licenses, and charging a regulatory fee to defray the cost of policing their operations. The club owners are grumbling that the new rules are draconian, but it could be worse -- the DEA could kick down their doors and haul them to jail. Come to think of it, thanks to Mosby, that just might happen anyway.