The legalization of recreational pot in two states this fall has left the feds dumbstruck, but the medical cannabis industry in the Bay Area is soldiering on, with the opening of several dispensaries in the face of a fourteen-month crackdown by US attorneys in California. Blüm Oakland opened on November 11 at 578 West Grand Avenue (near Telegraph Avenue) in Oakland, according to its operators. Arturo Sanchez, assistant to the Oakland city administrator, said Blüm Oakland is the business name of Oakland Community Collective, a group that took first place this year in a city competition for four new Oakland dispensary permits.
Oakland Community Collective is run by a number of people familiar with the Oakland scene, including owner and general manager Salwa Ibrahim, a former Oaksterdam executive. Former WeGrow partner Derek Peterson co-owns OCC, and is its chief financial officer. The first few weeks have seen a steady flow of customers. "Our main priority is just serving patients high-quality medicine," Ibrahim said.
The club is carrying four indicas, seven sativas, ten hybrids, more than two-dozen edibles, and about a dozen concentrates. The online menu updates in real-time, said Ibrahim. Specials go for as low as $60 for a quarter-ounce of Pineapple, Blue Dream, or outdoor Cookies. "We definitely want to make sure we can serve all patients regardless of their economic situation," she said.
Top-shelf Blue Hawaiian and Cadillac Purple run as high as $17 a gram. Hours are very convenient: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. The club accepts credit and debit cards and cash. The dispensary is also currently featuring artwork by Oakland's Oliver Black.
The City of Oakland has created a total of eight permits for medical cannabis dispensaries, and five businesses that hold such permits are currently operating. They include Harborside Health Center (which is fighting a federal-forfeiture threat), Purple Heart Patient Center, and Oakland Organics. Coffeeshop Blue Sky — an Oaksterdam-affiliated establishment that was raided and closed in April after it moved twice to avoid a federal forfeiture threat — is also operational, Sanchez stated. (Blue Sky's listed phone number remains disconnected, though.) Blüm Oakland is the fifth club to open. Abatin Wellness, a project of TV personality Montel Williams, is "close" to being ready, Sanchez wrote in an email.
The holders of the last two provisional permits, Magnolia Wellness Inc. and Tidewater Patients Group, continue to look for a location, Sanchez stated. Final operating permits are not issued until dispensary sites have completed construction, passed inspections, and received an occupancy permit from the fire department, he wrote.
Finding a suitable location has proven difficult for all Bay Area dispensary permit holders. In October 2011, four US attorneys declared a broad crackdown on the state's medical marijuana industry. Their chief weapon has been the federal threat of forfeiture, which has scared landlords into kicking out dispensary tenants. The crackdown has also spooked landlords from renting to potential clubs, commercial real estate agents say.
Twelve groups braved the crackdown and applied for four new Oakland dispensary permits last year. Ten finalists were announced in December 2011; four made it past hearings in January and were awarded permits contingent on finding suitable property. "The City of Oakland had a very lengthy, thorough process and we're very lucky to have gotten this far — all factors considered," Ibrahim said.
Elsewhere around the Bay, Berkeley Patients Group will return this December, according to an announcement from the huge Berkeley club, which was kicked out of its original location by a forfeiture threat. The dispensary will reopen at 2366 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley.
And another one of US Attorney Melinda Haag's targets, Shambhala Healing Center, announced on November 14 that it has re-opened its location at 2441 Mission Street in San Francisco's Mission District. "We have been encouraged by the recent election and the initiatives passed in favor of cannabis. ... We look forward to seeing you again!" the club wrote to patients.
The City of San Francisco also continues to permit new clubs in the face of the crackdown, including the soon-to-open Morado Collective down the street from Shambhala. The apparent renaissance in Bay Area dispensaries led SF Weekly to ask in a web headline last Friday, "Is the Dispensary Crackdown Over?"
Haag's office generally refuses to comment on the crackdown. But Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht got a hold of Benjamin Wagner, US attorney for the Eastern District of California, and Wagner told Hecht that "so long as conditions in California stay the same, our enforcement efforts are going to be pretty much the same."
Seeds & Stems
While we were scarfing turkey, stoners in Amsterdam awarded top honors to the best ganja in the world in the 25th annual High Times Cannabis Cup on November 22. It was a celebratory competition compared to last year, which saw the threat of a ban on foreigners in Amsterdam coffee shops, as well as the first-ever police raid of the Cannabis Cup expo. A more liberal government has since quashed the idea of keeping foreigners out of Amsterdam coffee shops, and this year's events were raid-free. Green House Coffeeshop took first place in the Cannabis Cup for its Flower Bomb Kush.