This has been a big week for the drug law reform community: Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday directed US Attorneys to reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes like pot-growing; CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed himself and endorsed medical marijuana; and a US district judge ruled that New York City's stop-and-frisk policy, which has ensnared untold numbers of people for pot possession, was unconstitutional. And now a newly permitted medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland will hold its grand opening on Thursday — a long-overdue addition to a city besieged by the federal crackdown on legal pot businesses.
The opening of Magnolia Wellness at 161 Adeline Street at 3rd Street — just off Interstate 880's "Broadway/Alameda" exit — also means that East Bay residents now can choose from six permitted medical marijuana shops in Oakland. The newest club's soft opening on August 1 was the culmination of several years of work, and demonstrated the medical cannabis movement's resilience in the face of historic levels of federal intimidation.
Californians legalized pot for medical patients in 1996 and for collectives of patients in 2004. In February of that year, Oakland took the groundbreaking step of licensing up to four dispensaries, while shutting down all non-licensed shops. Those permits are currently held by Purple Heart Patient Center (415 4th Street), Blue Sky (1776 Broadway), Harborside Health Center (1840 Embarcadero), and Oakland Organics (464 7th Street).
In 2009, 80 percent of city voters passed a medical cannabis sales tax, which brings in about $1.68 million in revenue each year. In July 2011, the Oakland City Council increased the number of allowable dispensary permits from four to eight. "The purpose was to provide local qualified patients with a sufficient number of dispensaries to meet their medical needs," city officials stated at the time in a press release.
In September 2011, Oakland issued a request for permit applications, but in October 2011, California's four US Attorneys called a press conference and declared a crackdown on marijuana businesses in California, all of which are unlawful in the feds' eyes.
The Magnolia Wellness group originated in the Sacramento area, where it operated Magnolia Wellness in unincorporated Sacramento County and River City Phoenix in the City of Sacramento. Magnolia Wellness was considered the number-three best club in the county by Sacramento News & Review readers in September 2011. By December 2011 Magnolia was closed as part of the crackdown.
Eleven groups applied for an Oakland permit in November 2011, and by March 2012, the city had selected four permit finalists. Magnolia Wellness ended up getting one of those four permits and is now the second of this group to open, following Blum Oakland, which began operating last November at 578 West Grand Avenue.
Leasing dispensary space remains a nightmare for dispensary operators because US Attorney Melinda Haag has been threatening to seize the property of landlords who rent to medical pot clubs, including the owner of a building leased to Harborside Health Center. Most landlords are too afraid to rent to a marijuana business, even a permitted one, real estate agents say.
The operators of Magnolia Wellness, however, were able to score a space in a two-story office building in industrial Oakland. This is a car-driver's dream club — sorry pedestrians. Two turns from the freeway exit with ample parking and security guards directing traffic, the dispensary is in an area that is all freeway overpasses and port-bound tractor trailers.
But the tree-shaded parking lot is actually quite humane. Oakland's pot clubs have mandates like litter removal twice a day within one hundred feet of the store. Cameras, alarms, and security personnel are also mandatory. And the city prohibits smoking, loitering, and garish signage. (Why is this so hard to emulate Vallejo, Marin, and San Mateo?)
The interior looks like a converted medical office space. Sign-up took ten minutes. Security and staff were very happy to be open and serving customers. We got buzzed into a roomy back area with an express booth for pick-up orders, a waiting area, a classroom, and bud stations. With hardwood floors, and freshly painted walls, Magnolia is very clean. No one's getting baked in the building.
Behind the counter was an ornate chalkboard menu with about ten sativas and indicas grouped in two price categories: top-shelf and regular. Top-shelf strains at Magnolia runs $17, $30, $50, and $95 for grams, two grams, eighth-ounces, and quarter-ounces, respectively. Regular strains run $13 per gram, $20 for two grams, $35 per eighth, and $65 a quarter-ounce.
The top-shelf Bubbleband and Dutch Treat had phenomenal noses and tested at high potency. Bubbleband is a mix of Indiana's award-winning Bubble Gum and the sativa Headband (a mix of OG Kush and Sour Diesel). The resulting hybrid has all of Bubble Gum's fruity, bubble-gum smell and taste but with less of its narcoleptic indica effects.
Dutch Treat is a treat wherever you can get it — an award-winning mix of Northern Lights, Skunk, and Haze that smells like a spicy-sweet Jack Herer. It's sleepier than Bubbleband and patients use it mainly for stress management and relaxation.
Magnolia Wellness has won a slew of awards already: Best Edible at the 2013 Los Angeles High Times Cup for Sweet Stone Gummy Bears; Third Place Best Sativa for Red Congolese, also at the LA Cup this year; and Best Booth in the 2011 and 2013 High Times SF Cups. New patient reward is one free gram of top-shelf.