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Strawberry Fields in a Concrete Jungle

A review of low-profile dispensary Oakland Organics. Plus Colorado-style regs come to Cali?

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Oakland plans to increase the number of dispensary permits from four to eight in 2012, a move that is sure to draw more attention to medical cannabis and the existing permit-holders in town. Of those, Harborside Health Center has its own Discovery Channel show, and Oaksterdam spinoff Coffeeshop Blue Sky operates under the imprimatur of Prop 19 backer Rich Lee.

But like Purple Heart Patient Center, the one-year-old Oakland Organics is a low-profile affair. Hiding in plain sight on Broadway at 7th Street, this understated club offers a chill, professional, bargain-hunting environment, complete with friendly staff, easy BART access, and the security of being located directly across the street from a police station. The dispensary doesn't court press or advertise heavily, so it takes some work to piece together its story.

Oakland Organics stems from Santa Rosa dispensary Organicann, whose owner, Dona Frank, made headlines in 2010 with a dispute over the club's permit. Frank bought the permit from the dispensary's former owners, Steven and Stacy Petras, in 2009, but the transfer of what was once called Oakland Patient Center didn't go smoothly, and they went to court.

The City of Oakland blocked the sale and revoked the permit in January 2010, but the dispensary continued to operate. In April 2010, the city threatened the facility's landlord with $1,000-a-day fines. Frank sued to stop the fines and won, according to Organicann attorney Lisa Gygax. (Oakland Assistant to the City Administrator Arturo Sanchez confirmed that the issue was settled.) Since then, Organicann has made nary a peep, and that's how they like it.

Legalization Nation had to drive by 705 Broadway twice to make sure it was the right place, as there's almost no exterior signage on the corner building. The prominent Oakland Police Department station across the street offers the best landmark. Oakland Organics operates out of a cinderblock building camouflaged by a red, soot-covered awning.

Past the panhandlers, a parking lot, and a tattoo parlor, underneath the "705" address, there's a small cannabis leaf in the deeply tinted window and some vaguely threatening signs about how customers should abstain from cellphone use indoors. Inside, behind the pitch-black tinted-glass door, sits an affable female receptionist behind a desk.

Classic rock plays in the small reception area. A Culture magazine poster and some jazzy, urban art covers the walls. New patients need a valid doctor's recommendation and a state ID. Returning collective members need just the ID. Oakland Organics' new-member intake lasts about ten minutes as club employees verify qualified patients and process a one-page form. Staff also takes a digital photograph of each new patient for the dispensary's records.

Ten-percent-off coupon in hand, Legalization Nation got buzzed into the main room, a stylish contrast to the distressed neighborhood. Huge, black-tinted, plate-glass windows look out onto the bustling intersection, but pedestrians cannot see in. A long, wide, L-shaped bar dominates the space, and three large, wall-mounted menu boards across from the bar lay out Organics' selection, grouped by price and type.

Bigger than Purple Heart but smaller than Harborside, Oakland Organics' menu overwhelms. Good thing the place has little foot traffic. Bud tenders proved pleasant and knowledgeable, pointing out their prized new Platinum Kush and Sour Diesel.

For those exhausted by the OG Kush-Diesel regime, Oakland Organics really shines. Organicann's site offers photos of all their cuts — like sativa-dominant hybrid Jack Herer. The stuff sparkles and smells like sweet candy; typical effects include a "focused, creative head, with a comfortable body. Strong, but not sleepy," according to the menu.

Oakland Organics does its research, noting Jack's heritage: Northern Lights No. 5, Shiva Skunk, and Haze. Pure Analytics potency testing indicates a strong 16.15 percent THC content.

The menu also has some real rarities: the award-winning Alpha Blue, a cross of Blue Dream and Sour Diesel; an extensive selection of Cheese kin like Cheeziel and Cheese Balls; CBD-strong Harlequin; and extensive Purples and offshoots like Blue Hawaiian.

The famed Strawberry Cough captures the senses, though. A mix of Haze and Vermont-bred Strawberry Fields, the strawberry-smelling, sativa-dominant hybrid's effects are "heady and active," Organics staff and others state. It also "alleviates depression" and makes one "giggly," according to the menu. Sounds like the perfect counter to seasonal family angst. Sold.

Oakland Organics also offers discount 1/8ths for just $25, discounts for veterans every day, sales on edibles each Wednesday, and 10 percent discounts for students on Fridays. Professional yet subtle, Oakland Organics might not care for the limelight, but it's a well-stocked shop that discerning patients should not overlook.

Seeds & Stems

A California ballot initiative to regulate medical cannabis statewide is ringing in the New Year, thanks to patient lobby group Americans for Safe Access and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5. The two groups filed a request December 15 with the secretary of state to circulate for signature-gathering an initiative that would mandate at least one dispensary per fifty thousand people, and create a state "Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement" to license growers and stores — similar to the system in Colorado.

Read the proposal online at the Legalization Nation blog. Follow our breaking tweets on Twitter at LegaliztionNatn.

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