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Oakland to President Obama: Change Your Ways! [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #744)
Consequences of Prohibition

Several hundred -- perhaps as many as a thousand -- medical marijuana patients, providers, and supporters took to the streets of Oakland Monday afternoon to put President Obama on notice that they are extremely unhappy with his administration's crackdown on dispensaries. The president arrived at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland for a fundraising event later Monday evening.

signs in business reflect community support (all photos by Drug War Chronicle)
The crowd was up in arms over the federal offensive that has seen hundreds of California dispensaries shuttered by threats of asset forfeiture or criminal prosecution since the state's four US Attorneys announced the joint offensive last fall. But it was even more incensed by the May raids on Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University and last week's issuance of asset forfeiture lawsuits aimed Harborside Health Center, the nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary.

Steve DeAngelo, Harborside's chief executive officer, led the raucous march past Oaksterdam University as it circled the Fox Theater before returning to Frank Ogawa Plaza. Waving signs saying "Fight Crime, Not Cannabis" and "Save Harborside, Save My Job," demonstrators chanted "Obama, keep your promise!" and shouted obscene references to the drug war.

Local businesses around Oaksterdam showed their support by displaying green flags. And numerous passing motorists honked in support, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.

Earlier in the day there was street theater at Frank Ogawa Plaza, followed by an early afternoon press conference at Oaksterdam University to denounce the offensive against the dispensaries in general and the recent assault on Harborside, one of the movement's flagships, in particular.

"I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue," Obama pledged during the 2008 campaign. The patients, providers, and political figures who stood before the microphones and TV cameras demanded that he -- and the federal agencies he controls -- abide by that pledge.

Steve De Angelo preparing to lead the march
"This is a watershed moment for our movement," said De Angelo. "If the US Attorneys are able to come after Harborside, no other dispensary will be safe. We want an immediate freeze on all such law enforcement actions until the highest levels of Justice can review them to ensure they are consistent with administration policy not to target organizations compliant with state law. Today, we are sending the president a message that will be too powerful to ignore."

"An attack on providers is an attack on patients," said Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones. "Attacking the providers keeps the criminals in charge of distribution and profits the cartels," she charged. "Name the advantages of continuing this failed policy, Mr. President."

Bob Swanson, a spokesman for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, was there to show Miley's support for the medical marijuana community. Miley was going to take a resolution passed by the county Democratic Party Central Council condemning the crackdown before the county board of supervisors, he announced.

"We're spending millions to bust dispensaries providing services to sick people," Swanson said. "President Obama needs to understand that his prosecutors have gone rogue -- they've gone Sarah Palin on him. This may cost him votes, and he needs every vote he can get."

on the march
Local officials have reason to support the dispensaries. In addition to providing services for the sick, they provide jobs and tax revenues. With its 100,000 patients, Harborside alone employs more than a hundred people and did more than $22 million in business last year, generating $1 million in tax revenues for the city of Oakland and another $2 million for the state of California.

But it wasn't just local officials. The press conference also drew Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray, hoping to find support for himself and the top half of his ticket, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, among those disenchanted with the administration's medical marijuana policies.

"Nothing good will come from closing down places like Harborside and Oaksterdam," said Gray, a longtime critic of drug prohibition. "Patients will have to go underground to get their medicine, and it won't result in less availability; it'll just make it illegal, giving more money to the drug cartels and criminal gangs," he argued.

"I proudly represent Gary Johnson, who understands this whole drug war system," Gray said, garnering loud applause. "He stands with you today, and I stand with him. There is no hope for medical marijuana dispensaries if either Obama or Romney is elected -- only Gary Johnson will ensure their survival."

Jason David, father of medical marijuana patient Jayden David, addressing the media
"This federal crackdown is the broadest and most serious since voters here approved medical marijuana in 1996," said Don Duncan, California coordinator for Americans for Safe Access. "We've got paramilitary-style raids, we've got intimidation in the financial sector, we've got denial of gun rights. An attack on patients' access is an attack on medical cannabis patients. It is legal patients and their caregivers who comprise our co-ops and collectives, that's who's going to suffer. If the administration wants the support and enthusiasm of our people, they're going to have to stop attacking medical cannabis patients."

There were several wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients on stage as well, including Yvonne Westbrook-Whig, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who asked the president to "please show some compassion," but it was Jason David, whose young son, Jayden, suffers from a severe seizure syndrome, who most vividly brought home the impact of the attack on dispensaries.

"You have two beautiful daughters, Mr. President, you can imagine how it would feel, but you're going to shut down Harborside, the medical marijuana facility that takes care of my son's needs. What am I going to do? We use a CBD tincture that is non-psychoactive to reduce his seizures -- he's had more than 300 of them -- please help me save my son and help out the medical marijuana community. He's had to make 45 trips in the ambulance, but not one since medical marijuana. Everything you said before the election turned out to be a lie. Mr. Obama, I want some answers."

None have been forthcoming so far, but the medical marijuana community in Oakland and its supporters are doing everything they can to get the president to notice he has a problem. 

(This article was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Patent Lawyer (not verified)

None of this would be going on if Californian's had passed prop-19 two years ago. Let that be a lesson to all those in other states who are opposing marijuana legalization initiatives.

Obama did not promise he would 100% leave states alone with regards to medical marijuana. You may have heard that quoted in the media but its not really what he said. This is the Ogden 2009 memo:

"On the other hand, prosecution of commercial enterprises that
unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the
Department. To be sure, claims of compliance with state or local law may mask operations
inconsistent with the terms, conditions, or purposes of those laws, and federal law enforcement
should not be deterred by such assertions when otherwise pursuing the Department's core
enforcement priorities. "

This is a pretty direct statement saying that dispensaries with over 100,000 customers (I'm not calling them all patients because that demeans the term patient) making millions of dollars would quality as those that the federal government was willing to go after. Regardless of whether or not they are seemingly obeying all state laws. This memo should really have been called the "stay low key within your state laws or we will bust you regardless memo".

No one should be surprised by this. What we should be surprised by is people still haven't learned their lesson. Separate the issues of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana and you will be far more successful and honest in marijuana activism efforts. The people who are really being hurt by this are not the owners of Harborside or the people with essentially fake prescriptions but the truly sick patients who need medical marijuana. They are being hurt by all this nonsense and dishonesty (on both sides). Consider that this November. Not who might have promised what.

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 1:17pm Permalink
mexweed (not verified)

In reply to by Patent Lawyer (not verified)

"Separate the issues of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana and you will be far more successful and honest in marijuana activism efforts."--Patent Lawyer

I agree with much of what you say but I am flagging this sentence because it reveals a flagrant missed opportunity.  It took a battle to get the Wikipedia "Cannabis smoking" article to mention not only Medical and Recreational uses but also "Inspirational"-- "by artists and inventors in pursuit of creativity".

I think it is justified to understand nicotine and caffeine as Performance Enhancing Drugs for the bureaucrat or wage laborer who needs something to help them stay awake, look busy, fool the boss, get the paycheck.  For the creative or multi-talented person acting out of an encompassing vision of benefit to the community of life on planet (FOREST) cannabis is a performance enhancing herb or nutrisupplement.  All people are hurt by failure to encourage the invention of programs and devices to protect and increase trees, forest, rainfall, wildlife; anecdotal evidence that individuals made a superior contribution after cannabis use is of course rare due to the personal career danger to anyone speaking up and identifying oneself as a Witness to its positive value.  

I agree with passing Prop. 19, any increment is better than nothing.  My viewpoint on "recreational" drugs is that they could be spelled "WRECK-creational and, yes, alcohol is world #1 WRECK-creational drug, and think how many binge-drinking parties would NEVER have happened if cheap legal cannabis were available, especially to minors over 16 armed with drivers' licenses. 

PS: maybe the Attorneys were emboldened by a feeling that no one would stand up for the Dispensaries who, honestly, charged a hell of a lot of money for the cannabis.  If cannabis were $20 an ounce, i.e. competitive with two packs of hot burning overdose nicotine $igarettes (700-mg x 40 = 28 grams), and every user had a 25-mg-serving-size one-hitter (over 1000 tokes per ounce), $200-billion a year worth of medical consequences of $igarette addiction (USA) could be PREVENTED and "Medical" marijuana would be a lot less important.

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 10:13pm Permalink
Patent Lawyer (not verified)

In reply to by fulpeace (not verified)

First of all I am not actually a lawyer its a joke of a name.

Second of all your level of immaturity and ability to discuss facts and strategy represent everything that is wrong with drug war activism. Facts trump emotions. Evidence trumps opinions.

You can whine and shout all you want but I am offering real solutions. Ignore them at your own peril. I predicted this would happen years ago and no one listened.

Mon, 08/13/2012 - 9:13am Permalink
Anonymous234234234 (not verified)

As we have seen after events such as the recent theater shooting as well as other shootings, talk of gun restrictions increases and this results in an explosion of gun sales because people panic from the assumption that our gun rights will be taken away. I wonder how similar the DEA Cannabis Offensive is to that. What if, and I know, this is a BIG what if, but what if Obama plans to legalize and regulate, or at the very least re-schedule, cannabis in his second term? First, he would not dare mention this to the public because he wouldn't want to risk being re-elected, so it makes sense that he would wait until he's a "lame duck." The DEA would most likely be aware of this change - and/or perhaps they are already aware of the impending change in social attitude toward cannabis and the obvious fact that more and more people want it legalized - and they, like those who panic from the potential loss of their right to buy guns, are trying to get in as many cannabis-related busts as possible before things change and legally force them not to be able to.

Just a thought.

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 2:23pm Permalink
Patent Lawyer (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous234234234 (not verified)

I think thats exactly what they are doing. Although I think they would do it regardless of what Obama's plans are for next term. I don't think he will do much different unless things change at the local level. This is why people really need to show local support for medical and recreational marijuana initiatives. This will build the momentum at federal level when the time is right.

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 5:29pm Permalink
kaptinemo (not verified)

In reply to by Patent Lawyer (not verified)

but I fear something else is brewing, and it's worse than what's happening now.

With the advent of Sativex, the Gub'mint is going to go nuclear on the MMJ States before re-legalization gets further traction in non-MMJ States. Here's how it might play out.

It may not be 100% accurate as to the details, but I very firmly believe in the article's premise. Sativex and the dispensaries cannot co-exist...just as dispensaries will not be able to survive in their present forms with re-legalization. What the dispensaries did with working against Prop19 opened the door to what  the Feds are doing to the dispensaries now, and will do in the future to other MMJ States.

Thu, 07/26/2012 - 9:26am Permalink
Patent lawyer (not verified)

In reply to by kaptinemo (not verified)

Sativex bashing is counter productive. The people who make Sativex (GW pharm) have done a lot to prove to doctors that cannabis based medicines actually have clinical value. Also not everyone who uses medical cannabis wants to smoke it or eat the plant. Some people actually want a more regulated controlled drug. Many scientists who worked with GW on Sativex are good people and are not in a giant conspiracy to end medical cannabis. Thats a stupid accusation and I"ve seen it a lot here.

Thu, 08/09/2012 - 4:44am Permalink
mexweed (not verified)

I think you are right, it may turn out to be possible to push Obama into legalization, meanwhile let's also push this idea: Mormons have a good record suppressing $igarette addiction (look at the addiction statistics in Utah compared to national average).  Let's urge Barry to appoint Romney Czar over a movement to do away with the catastrophic $$ national shame of 40,000,000 nicotine slaves, by using all necessary means including PREVENTIVE cannabis served in vaporizers, one-hitters and CANNABINOID E-CIGARETTE (what happened to "Vapor Rush", announced as available in selected California dispensaries in 2010?).

Wed, 07/25/2012 - 10:27pm Permalink
Jeff Brown (not verified)

Its only a small group of evil doers who are keeping marijuana illegal. The People have awoken to all the lies and know that this herb/plant is the most useful plant on the planet. Food, clothing, shelter, medicine, spiritual insight etc. The voice of the People is the voice of God.

Thu, 07/26/2012 - 11:46am Permalink
William Aiken (not verified)

I just heard that the first presidential debate is going to be hosted in Denver, this Fall. What better a place that has had it's share of raids on dispensaries but they haven't generated the controversy or chaos that California has experienced. During the Republican Primary, a reporter interviewing Mitt Romney in Colorado asked about his position on Medical Marijuana. The reporter made reference to the fact that this was a local  issue important to the people of Colorado. Romney tried to avoid the subject by shifting the conversation to jobs, jobs, jobs. He was visibly uncomfortable dodging the question before giving a hasty answer that rejected the whole MM concept, saying that he believed pot was a gateway drug.

It's great that a city, like Denver with a lot of experience with MM is hosting the debates and that the audience would be supportive of a candidate or the President who shows some tolerance for those who need MM. I am looking forward to see what issues the media brings to the debate. Hopefully, there will be some reporters from the Colorado area on the panel.


Thu, 07/26/2012 - 6:28pm Permalink
cindy stebbins… (not verified)

I wish I could have been there Thurs. to be apart of this rally. I follow this subject as closely as possible and I find it all to be a the biggest waste of money with all the cut backs everywhere else. I'm afraid at this point, even if Obama changes his tune and gets our votes back. If he lied to us once, why wouldn't he lie to us again just to win the election? They say once a liar, always a liar, and I agree Romney could be worse, after hearing his thoughts on the subject. I don't know what to do, maybe not vote, because you know even all our votes aren't going to get the other guy elected.  It never does. Maybe we'd be better off not to vote on president just leave a blank.  we could still vote on everything else. I am so confused by all this. Most of us who are smokers are not going to stop just because they crack down I've been a smoker for 40 + years. and legal or illegal  if we want it we will get it .We could fix so much if they just quit acting like it's so bad.  

Fri, 07/27/2012 - 5:49am Permalink
the virgin terry (not verified)

'dispensaries with over 100,000 customers (I'm not calling them all patients because that demeans the term patient)'   'None of this would be going on if Californian's had passed prop-19 two years ago.'  'Separate the issues of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana and you will be far more successful and honest in marijuana activism efforts.' -patent lawyer

p.l., u're all over the place in your opinions and logic. first u attack california's medical marijuana system as too unregulated, since u imply that many 'patients' are in fact 'customers'. no doubt some are being ingenuous in obtaining prescriptions, but so what? who would u rather have deciding who's a legitimate patient and who's not: doctors, or zealously puritanical cops and prosecutors? either way mistakes may be made. i'd rather any 'mistakes' be on the side of liberty and compassion, rather than cruel persecution of 'legitimate' patients. likewise, there's no reason to suppose that had california voters passed a legalization initiative, the feds would be any more rational or accomodating to the will of the voters. don't u see that the only 'constituents' they're concerned with are those with very deep pockets, like big pharmaceutical corporations, who don't give a shit about anything but making big bucks? lastly, regarding the separation of medical and recreational use, again this involves making a distinction that isn't easy or perhaps wise to do (some relatively famous pot smoker has been quoted as saying that all use is potentially medical/therapeutic, which i tend to agree with). i'll bet their are a lot of people like me out there, who began smoking 'recreationally', and over time learned that such 'recreational' use brought relief from various ailments, with obvious health benefits.

we live in a corrupt culture ruled by corrupt politicians and ideologies, a culture in which money speaks louder than words. both big political parties are hopelessly corrupt. either drop out of formal politics or support a fringe party that truly deserves your respect. of course, if u can, support good organizations like the one providing this discussion forum. it's always an uphill fight against the forces of unreason.

Fri, 07/27/2012 - 11:24pm Permalink
Patent lawyer (not verified)

In reply to by the virgin terry (not verified)

I am referring to legal definitions of medicine not opinions about what should and shouldn't get called medical. Doctors, policy makers and scientists all need to come to agreement about what is medical and what is not with every substance they use in the clinic. Why should cannabis be an exception? For patients with very serious illness its necessary.

Of course the largely recreational smoker can consider using cannabis for sleep or headaches medical. Just like any other herb one would grow in the garden. But when we are talking about making policies and laws it needs to be a bit more well define and based on scientific evidence not opinions. 


You say "so what" but your "so what" attitude it what led to this mess.

Thu, 08/09/2012 - 4:35am Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Who would have thought that Colorado would be the first to legalize ? What went wrong , California ? It`s now = " As Colorado goes , so goes the country " . Californians must feel pretty bad right about now . Man , how could the mid-west steal our thunder ? The Genie is out of the bottle . That  " Big Green Tsunami " is coming to a State near you , voter approved . Those that wage war against a plant , wage war against common sense . Don`t be a sucker . .......

Sun, 07/29/2012 - 5:19am Permalink

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