Five months ago, the US Department of Justice renewed its drug war against California's medical cannabis industry. Today, Weed Wars star Harborside Health Center is fighting a multimillion-dollar IRS bill, while Prop 19-affiliated Coffeeshop Blue Sky is on the run.
Keeping one's head down — a longtime strategy for Oakland's other two pot clubs — seems to have been prudent. While Oakland Organics quietly serves up stunning ganja on Broadway and 7th Street, a few blocks away, six year-old Jack London district dispensary Purple Heart Patient Center is a hidden shrine to Oakland's deep and abiding love of all things purple.
At first glance, it's almost impossible to find Purple Heart amid the rusty, sad parking meters, copious street litter, shuttered buildings, and graffiti-covered utility trucks in the area. But look for the traffic. Out front of 415 4th Street, beamers park next to beaters, and on a recent visit, a clean white SUV doubleparked in front of a driveway. A diverse array of people popped in and out: city workers on their lunch break, grey-haired hippie dudes, hipster girls, straight dads playing hooky, and young gentlemen in sports attire.
The doorway is totally nondescript, but once you walk inside, things start making sense: floor-to-ceiling purple walls decorate the lobby area, and, after verification, patients are buzzed into the small mom-and-pop shop, featuring more purple walls, purple carpets, purple merchandise, and, of course, purple cannabis. Purple Heart Patient Center has clearly found its theme, and in that theme it somehow feels like Oakland's most authentic club.
Harborside's operator is a big dreamer from Washington, DC, and Harborside feels like a groovy bank. Richard Lee loved Amsterdam, so Blue Sky felt like a Dutch coffeeshop. Oakland Organics' owner simply converted a downtown bar. But the well-kept Purple Heart evokes a mixture of the old Oaksterdam scene and the Better Business Bureau. The club specialty, however, is catering to Oakland's deep and abiding live of purple weed.
Celebrated by rappers around the Bay, Granddaddy Purple (aka GDP, the Purps) reigns supreme in Oakland. A Northern California indica from Humboldt, GDP looks purple, smells sweet and funky, and tastes like grapes. We doubt that Purple Heart Patient Center has ever let it, or its relatives, run out of stock.
Displayed on two huge flat-screen wall monitors, the thirteen strains available when we recently visited included seven with some form of purps in them. There were standards like Gorgeous Grapes, Purple Inferno, and Purple Pebbles, plus exotics like Kryptonite (which is Space Queen and Purple Erkle), Super Dark, Black Cherry Haze, and a mysterious, top-shelf selection: Cherry Cookies.
Cookies, aka Girl Scout Cookies, is not only an addictive baked good from a national girls group, it's also among the top five trendy strains in California cannabis. It's a cross of the classic OG Kush and Cherry Pie, while Cherry Pie itself is a cross of South Africa's sweet sativa Durban Poison and, yup, you guessed it, Granddaddy Purple.
We didn't get any info, but Cherry Cookies is likely Girl Scout Cookies re-crossed with GDP, or Cherry Pie, or something else to double down on the berry sweetness and hybrid effects. Patients report it's bomb, too: a mix of grape and funk that smells peppery on the grind, with odors of pine and fuel when smoked.
Budtenders keep samples in jars at the small glass counter. Patients can smell, but may not touch, and bags come pre-packaged, which bothers those who prefer in-person weighing. PHPC does not test and label all their products for potency and pathogens. In lieu of such information, everything at least looked strong.
Since late December, the Heart has capped prices on top-shelf eighths at $50, which is still pricey. But their $40 and $35 eighths look just as good, from the Citrus OG to the Frost Bite. Bring cash, they don't take cards and the ATM fee is $2. Purple Heart also provides its menu online at www.PurpleHeartPC.org, though they don't list their two dozen or so types of concentrates, or their two dozen-plus edibles, portable vaporizers, and refill cartridges. Qualified patients with a valid doctor's recommendation can also text 87365 for alerts, menu, and deals.
Seeds & Stems
One of Oakland's four permitted cannabis dispensaries is on the move again. Oaksterdam owner Richard Lee operated Coffeeshop Blue Sky at 377 17th Street for several years until last October, when Lee's landlord reportedly received a letter from the feds threatening forfeiture. Coffeeshop Blue Sky moved a few doors down 17th, and resumed selling.
But on January 30, Blue Sky moved again to 1776 Broadway, the site of the Oaksterdam Museum. "Due to threats by the federal government Oakland cannabis dispensaries may be forced to relocate and operate under Measure Z, the ordinance passed by voters which made private sales and cultivation of cannabis by adults the lowest police priority," stated fliers handed out at the old location.
With hardwood floors and better lighting, Blue Sky at the Oaksterdam Museum is actually a much nicer place with a larger selection than the original Blue Sky cubby hole. We'll see if it sticks around. Meanwhile, another group has begun selling medical cannabis — presumably without a city permit — in the upstairs area above the old Coffee Shop Blue Sky location.