December 03, 2009 – The latest reports out of Trenton are that by the time the current governor leaves office, New Jersey is likely to have a law authorizing medical marijuana. So on a recent trip to California I decided to check out a marijuana clinic to see what the future will be like.

I was amazed at what I witnessed when I first walked in the door of the clinic on a downtown street in Oakland. The proponents of medical marijuana argue that those who need it are often suffering from dreadful, debilitating diseases. So I felt great sympathy for the patients as I watched them walk into the back room of the clinic to get their prescriptions filled. I could only imagine the agony these poor, unfortunate souls must have been experiencing.

Amazingly, though, every single one of them exited with a spring in his step. One young patient had apparently experienced such a miraculous cure that he picked up a skateboard and went swooping away on the sidewalk after he picked up his pot. Imagine that. The guy was probably confined to a wheelchair just the other day. Now he was doing ollies and fakies halfway to Berkeley.

I was impressed. I was equally impressed by the coffee and the chocolate cake. Did I mention that the clinic is also a coffee shop? It’s called the Blue Sky, and it’s modeled after the marijuana dispensaries in Amsterdam. In fact, the locals call this part of Oakland “Oaksterdam” to highlight the resemblance.

The difference is that in Amsterdam the pot is sold to everyone. In California, you have to have a photo ID that identifies you as a patient. I got talking to some of the staff and the patients. It turns out there are a surprisingly large number of illnesses that will qualify you for that ID card. If you’re having a hard time sleeping, for example, the doctor might prescribe some “Blue Dream.” Other maladies will respond to a dose of “Green Cush” or perhaps a few hits of “Querkle.”

Another good thing about this clinic was that it didn’t have the antiseptic air of a typical health clinic. On a sunny Sunday afternoon there was a jazz band playing on the sidewalk outside. Apparently jazz musicians long ago discovered the healing properties of marijuana, and they are eager to share their knowledge with the general public.

Down the block is an educational institution called Oaksterdam University. There, students take 13-week courses in the growing of this miracle medicine. They can even buy seedlings if they care to grow some of their own at home, a practice also permitted under California law.

Somewhere in there, I began to suspect that these patients weren’t as sick as advertised. Perhaps they were just sick of not being high.

Sure enough, it turns out the ultimate goal of California’s pot proponents is to make this miracle drug available to all adults without a prescription. On the café’s counter next to the cake was a petition calling for a referendum that would make marijuana legal for all Californians over the age of 21. It would be highly taxed and both the state and the municipality would get a share.

The owners of the Blue Sky and other clinics around California already make a point of collecting tax on every transaction and handing that revenue over to the government. The idea is that the pols in cash-strapped California will become as dependent on that revenue stream as the patients are on their prescriptions.

I’ve listened to a lot of the debate over medicinal marijuana in New Jersey, and our pols insist that our medical-marijuana law would be different than California’s, with tighter controls. I doubt it. The same dynamic at work in the Golden State is at work in the Garden State. When it comes to legalization, medicinal marijuana is just the camel’s nose under the tent.

The funny thing is, there’s another Camel headed the other way. The cigarette manufacturers are finding their product becoming more tightly regulated just as the pot growers are watching their regulations loosened. Many municipalities are banning the smoking of cigarettes on streets, in parks and just about anywhere in public. Meanwhile, the pot smokers in California are already agreeing to similar restrictions as part of that referendum.

So we may wind up with a situation in which pot smokers and cigarette smokers are treated equally under the law. They’ll be able to smoke, but just in private. Only their taxes will be public.

That’s fine with me. I don’t smoke either pot or cigarettes. But if the potheads want to join the nicotine fiends in lowering my tax burden, that may be the best prescription of all. By Paul Mulshine Source.
New Jersey considers a medical marijuana law – Video:

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Thousands Learn How to Grow Legal Medical Marijuana

November 30, 2009 – Don’t expect to pull an all-nighter at Med Grow Cannabis College.
Michigan’s first training center for medical marijuana education doesn’t ask students for their homework. There are no final exams. “We’re more of a trade school,” said Nick Tennant, Med Grow’s 24-year-old founder.

As states loosen their medical marijuana laws, institutions such as Med Grow are sprouting up, looking to educate potential caregivers about how to enter the cannabis industry the legal way.

Tennant opened the doors of Med Grow’s 4,800-square-foot facility near Detroit in September, about 10 months after voters approved the state’s medical marijuana act.
Always wanting to be his own boss, Tennant had dropped out of college to manage valet and auto-detail companies. But when his businesses contracted under the smothering recession, he looked to the medical marijuana industry for his next opportunity, months before the measure was up for public vote. “We knew the law was going to get passed,” he said.

In addition to Michigan, 12 states have legalized medical marijuana use: Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Tennant fashioned part of his business model after California’s Oaksterdam University, which claims to be the country’s first cannabis college, opening in 2007. Oaksterdam has three campuses in California: Oakland, Los Angeles and North Bay. Spokeswoman Salwa Ibrahim said the institution, which staffs about 50 employees, has graduated about 5,500 students. Oaksterdam welcomes the country’s new crop of cannabis colleges, she said.
“We welcome competition,” she said. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is change laws locally and federally.”

Hawaii activist Roger Christie says he connects the high he sustains from marijuana use as a “spiritual” ritual, a practice he believes is legal under First Amendment religion protections. He has been an advocate of marijuana use and legalization for 23 years, he said. Only recently did he add educational outreach to his Hawaii Cannabis Ministry. After reading a news story about a continental cannabis college, he decided to add monthly seminars to his ministry’s repertoire this fall.

So far, he has educated about 60 people over two weekend seminars. A $100 donation covers the cost of classes and a hemp seed lunch. “We train people to grow people to grow the best cannabis humanly possible,” Christie said. Med Grow students cover an array of topics related to the budding industry over semester-long courses or seminars. The curriculum covers proper cultivation and breeding, cooking tips and recipes, how to start a care-giving business and Cannabis History 1010. “Students should feel very confident that they’re going to succeed,” Tennant said.

Medical Marijuana Classes Flourish

Tennant’s school employs 12 people, he said. About 60 students are taking courses during this cycle. Med Grow’s five-week semester program, which offers two tracks convening on Monday or Wednesday nights, costs $475. Unlike accredited academic institutions, there is no standard of practices for cannabis colleges in Michigan. Tennant provides his graduates with a paper certificate anyway. It isn’t required, but a student could use it to establish credibility as a professional caregiver, proving he or she is “not just some Joe Shmoe off the street,” he said.

Graduates of Tennant’s college won’t be leaving their training to set up mass dispensaries. Under Michigan law, state-registered caregivers are only allowed to provide marijuana to a maximum of five patients. In California, students of cannabis colleges have a few more options, Ibrahim said. Students come from out-of-state to become lobbyists, dispensary managers as well as caregivers.

“They can do whatever they want to do,” she said. Trey Daring, 26, moved to Daly City, Calif., after graduating from Old Dominion University, in Virginia, to work as an advocate for the cannabis movement. His favorite course is advanced horticulture — it’s the most useful, he said. He’ll graduate in mid-December. Parents ‘Not Necessarily Proud’ of Cannabis College Certification

Daring’s parents are uneasy about his advocacy of the drug because marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law, the government’s most restrictive category that also includes LSD, ecstasy and heroin, he said. “I feel like they’re understanding now but not necessarily proud,” he said. His classrooms are not that much different from ones he had in high school and college: dry-erase boards, PowerPoint presentations and knowledgeable instructors. Perhaps the part that’s most different is his classmates.

“There are a lot more people over 30 than probably outsiders would believe,” he said.
Med Grow students also run the demographic gamut. Tennant said his pupils include 18-year-old high school graduates, a 60-year-old pastor and former clients of his old auto-detailing business, some of whom find themselves struggling to keep their own businesses afloat. His instructors stress that their curriculum is for medicinal purposes only, not recreational tips, he said. “I run a very tight operation here,” he said.

The medical marijuana industry could potentially help Michigan’s battered economy, provided it is not abused, Tennant said. Ibrahim of California’s Oaksterdam University also sees cannabis as a way to contribute positively to a state’s economy. Oaksterdam’s Oakland campus recently moved into a 30,000-square-foot building and, she said, the school expects to educate about 1,000 students a month, double the capacity of the previous space. “It really is flourishing in this economy,” she said. “We’re evidence of it. We just moved into a larger facility when everything else seems to be downsizing.”
By Katie Sanders. Source

November 12, 2009 – The U.S. Justice Dept., at the direction of the Obama Administration, last month announced that it would no longer direct federal investigative resources to pursue criminal charges against Picture 2medical marijuana clinics, providing they are operating lawfully. The policy represents a major shift in tactics from the Bush Administration, which had federal agents raiding medical marijuana distributors on the basis of violating federal statutes (federal law outlaws marijuana possession under the Controlled Substances Act) — even if the operators were in compliance with state laws.

Will the new Obama policy kick off an entrepreneurial bonanza in the 13 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) where medical cannabis is legal? Maybe, experts say, citing the proliferation of medical marijuana training centers in recent years and a plan by one California business to begin franchising the dispensaries. But while the potential for a large medical marijuana market exists, cannabis remains mired in legal ambiguities and political sensitivities that — while changing rapidly — are still difficult for entrepreneurs to navigate.

To start, most of the 13 states do not allow storefront dispensaries; they permit medical patients to grow their own marijuana or purchase it directly from a registered grower certified by the state. In the rare places that do allow dispensaries, they must be structured as nonprofit cooperatives rather than for-profit entities, with marijuana provided by state-certified patients or their caregivers.

Neighborhood nuisance
In California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana sales and use in 1996, this nonprofit requirement came in mid-2008, when State Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines for medical marijuana operations to try to rein in the hundreds — if not thousands — of for-profit dispensaries that had cropped up, many turning into neighborhood nuisances, with doctors on staff who would write prescriptions for anyone who walked through the doors. (California’s guidelines stating they should be nonprofit aren’t law; they’re in an opinion issued by Brown.)

Now the epicenter of the regulated medical marijuana movement is in Oakland, Calif., where four licensed cannabis dispensaries operate under strict city and state guidelines. This summer, the city’s voters approved by 80 percent a special 1.8 percent sales tax on marijuana sales that will go directly into the city’s general fund, says Steve DeAngelo, the founder of nonprofit dispensary Harborside Health Center. He and his attorney, James Anthony, devised the idea of the special tax while discussing the city’s financial straits.

Harborside, which looks something like a tidy community bank, does $20 million in annual sales, has 30,000 registered patients in its collective, and 75 full-time employees, DeAngelo says. His product is tested for purity and potency at a laboratory he helped found, he says, adding that during the past year’s recession his staff grew from 43 to 75, and says he pays each a living wage, provides them with health insurance and paid leave, and has recently added a pension program.

A lifelong cannabis activist and entrepreneur, DeAngelo has also come up with a new business idea. He recently founded for-profit Harborside Management Associates, a firm that currently does consulting for cannabis dispensaries and hopes to become America’s first franchised medical marijuana operation.

College course
Also located in Oakland is Oaksterdam University, a non-accredited private educational facility that teaches would-be dispensary owners to operate their own medical marijuana clinics. About 6,000 students have gone through its certificate program, which meets two hours a week for 13 weeks, says Greg Grimala, an Oaksterdam spokesperson.

While there is no requirement for dispensary operators to be certified, education and training may help entrepreneurs gain local approval for the facilities. “It’s very, very important for people who want to open dispensaries to work with their local government,” Grimala says. “It’s the local government that’s going to dictate whether they want to have this business in their neighborhood. If you open up in a city that does not want you there, they’ll find a way to force you out.”

Capital requirements for a new dispensary are $80,000 to $100,000 minimum, Grimala says. Richard Lee, who founded Oaksterdam University, agrees. He operates the Coffee Shop Blue Sky in Oakland, a combination for-profit coffee shop and for-profit medical marijuana dispensary that he says brings in $3 million in annual revenue. (Oakland’s local ordinance calls for no “excessive” profit, and Lee says so far the city has not deemed his dispensary to be making excessive profits.)

DeAngelo says he advises clients to plan on $250,000 in startup costs for larger operations like his own at Harborside. Along with purchasing marijuana plants and supplies, doing testing, staffing the facility, and providing adequate security, local jurisdictions often impose fees for licensing or conditional use permits, he says.

No cash cow
“If you think this is the newest way to make lots of money, I’d say get into another business,” DeAngelo says. “Even if you’re wildly successful and make a lot of money, you’re going to have to give that back to the community” because of the nonprofit business model, which he supports for the future.

“This is an opportunity for social entrepreneurs, who are willing to help suffering people feel better and expand the zone of freedom in our country. The type of person who should get into this business will be looking for less tangible rewards,” he says.

Bruce Mirken, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying and educational organization that advocates legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana, says that even in the states with the most liberal laws, storefront dispensaries exist in something of a gray area. While federal enforcement conflicted with state law, many cities were reluctant to issue formal guidelines for dispensaries, leaving the operators in legal limbo, he says. “Things will continue to evolve, and my guess is that more states will be open in time, but that’s anybody’s guess,” Mirken says.

Still, in the past several years, model dispensaries and industry best practices have begun to emerge. The Medical Cannabis Safety Council, in conjunction with other medical cannabis policy groups, is attempting to establish a self-regulatory model built on non-profit industries such as hospital emergency rooms, says Mickey Martin, a founding project adviser for the group and associate editor for West Coast Cannabis Magazine.

Ballot initiative
DeAngelo says he is optimistic about his company’s fortunes. “I believe the Obama Administration is being honest with us when they say we won’t be raided by the federal government if we’re in scrupulous compliance with state law and local regulations,” he says. He and other activists are collecting signatures to place a marijuana legalization initiative on the California ballot next year.

Tax Cannabis 2010 would allow cities and counties throughout the state to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use. “We think it will bring our laws in line with reality,” Grimala says. Even if that initiative is approved by voters — and it is certain to draw fierce opposition — DeAngelo says he will push for the industry to remain not-for-profit. “The country should get it right this time. Let’s take care of our cities and our schools and not give this one to the multinational corporations,” he says.

While he favors allowing adult recreational use, he says he is horrified by the idea of children being exposed to over-the-counter marijuana sales. “Do we want kids to walk into 7-Eleven past cigarettes and booze — and marijuana also? Do we want them to open up Rolling Stone and see a two-page glossy spread for reefers?”
by Karen E. Klein. Source.

October 16, 2009 – A nine-block section of downtown Oakland, Calif., has become a modern marijuana mecca—and a model for what a legalized-drug America could look like. Why the stars are aligning for Picture 22the pro-weed movement.

On the corner of Broadway and 17th Street in downtown Oakland, nudged between a Chinese restaurant and a hat shop, Oaksterdam University greets passersby with a life-sized cutout of Barack Obama and the sweet smell of fresh marijuana drifting from a back room. Inside, dutiful students flip through thick plastic binders of the day’s lessons, which, on a recent Saturday began with “Pot Politics 101,” taught by a ponytailed legal consultant who has authored a number of books on hemp. The class breaks for lunch around noon, and resumes an hour later, with classes on “budtending,” horticulture and cooking, which includes a recipe for “a beautiful pot pesto.” There are 50 students in this class, the majority of them Californians, but some have come all the way from Kansas. In between lectures, the university’s founder, Richard Lee, 47, rolls in and out on his wheelchair greeting students, looking the part of a pot school dean in Converse sneaker, aviator glasses, and a green “Oaksterdam” T-shirt.

Locals refer to the nine-block area surrounding the university as Oaksterdam—a hybrid of “Oakland” and the drug-friendly “Amsterdam,” where marijuana has been effectively legal since 1976. Nestled among what was once a rash of vacant storefronts, Lee has created a kind of urban pot utopia, where everything moves just a little bit more slowly than the outside world. Among the businesses he owns are the Blue Sky Coffeeshop, a coffee house and pot dispensary where getting an actual cup of Joe takes 20 minutes but picking up a sack of Purple Kush wrapped neatly in a brown lunch bag takes about five. There’s Lee’s Bulldog Café, a student lounge with a not-so-secret back room where the haze-induced sounds of “Dark Side of the Moon” seep through thick smoke, and a glass blowing shop where bongs are the art of choice. Around the corner is a taco stand (Lee doesn’t own this one) that has benefitted mightily from the university’s hungry students.

An education at Oaksterdam means learning how to grow, sell, market, and consume weed—all of which has been legal in California, for medicinal use only, since 1996. For the price of an ounce of pot and a couple of batches of brownies (about $250), pot lovers can enroll in a variety of weekend cannabis seminars all focused on medicinal use. But “medicinal” is something of an open joke in the state, where anyone over age 18 with a doctor’s note—easy to get for ailments like anxiety or cramps, if you’re willing to pay—can obtain an ID card allowing access to any of the state’s hundreds of dispensaries, or pot shops. (“You can basically get a doctor’s recommendation for anything,” said one dispensary worker.) Not all of those dispensaries are legally recognized, however: there’s a growing discrepancy over how California’s laws mesh (or don’t mesh) with local and federal regulations. But Oakland is unique in that it has four licensed and regulated dispensaries, each taxed directly by the city government. This past summer, Oakland voters became the first in the nation to enact a special cannabis excise tax—$18 for every $1,000 grossed—that the city believes will generate up to $1 million in the first year. Approved by 80 percent of voters, and unopposed by any organization, including law enforcement, the tax was pushed by the dispensary owners themselves, who hope the model will prove to the rest of California that a regulated marijuana industry can be both profitable and responsible. “The reality is we’re creating jobs, improving the city, filling empty store spaces, and when people come down here to Oakland they can see that,” says Lee, who smokes both recreationally and for his health, to ease muscle spasms caused by a spinal chord injury.

The arguments against this kind of operation are easy to tick off: that it glamourizes marijuana, promotes a gateway drug, leads to abuse. Compared to more serious drugs like heroine, cocaine or even alcohol, studies have shown the health effects of marijuana are fairly mild. But there are still risks to its consumption: heavy pot users are more likely to be in car accidents; there have been some reports of it causing problems in respiration and fetal development. And, as the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, put it recently, there are a number of medical professionals, and many parents, who worry that the drug’s increased potency over the years has heightened the risk of addiction. “It’s certainly true that this is not your grandfather’s pot,” says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Nevertheless, like much of the country, Oakland is suffering economically. The city faced an $83 million budget deficit this year, and California, of course, is billions in the red. So from a public coffers perspective, if ever there were a time to rethink pot policy, that time is now. Already in Sacramento, there is a legalization measure before the state assembly that the author claims could generate $1.3 billion in tax revenue. And while analysts say it has little hope of passing (it faces strong opposition from law enforcement), the figures prompted even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—who’s vetoed every marijuana-related bill to come across his desk—to proclaimed that “It’s time for a debate.” On a federal level, marijuana is still illegal—it was outlawed, over the objections of the American Medical Association, in 1937. But in February, Attorney General Eric Holder stunned critics when he announced that the feds would cease raiding medical marijuana dispensaries that are authorized under state law. “People are no longer outraged by the idea of legalization,” wrote former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown in a recent op-ed. “And truth be told, there is just too much money to be made both by the people who grow marijuana and the cities and counties that would be able to tax it.”

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has estimated that the cost of cannabis prohibition is $13 billion annually, with an additional $7 billion lost in potential tax revenue. Even the students at Lee’s Oaksterdam cite the job market as a reason for showing up: one man, there with his 21-year-old son, told NEWSWEEK he’d lost his business in the housing bust; another was looking for a way to supplement his income as a contractor. “Alcohol prohibition, the result of a century-long anti-alcohol crusade, was fairly quickly repealed in part because of the onset of the Great Depression,” says Craig Reinarman, a sociologist at UC Santa Cruz and the coauthor of Crack in America. “I think we’re in a similar situation now, where states are so strapped for money that any source of new revenue is going to be welcomed.”

Oakland has become a kind of test lab for what legalized marijuana might look like. City Council member Rebecca Kaplan tells NEWSWEEK that the new tax revenue will help save libraries, parks, and other public services, and that the once-destitute area where Oaksterdam now thrives has seen a clear boost. Over the past six years, 160 new businesses have moved into downtown Oakland, and the area’s vacancy rate has dropped from 25 percent to less than 5, according to Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency. And while that can’t be attributed to Oaksterdam directly, some local business owners believe it’s played a key role—particularly as it relates to local tourism. Lee hosts 500 students at Oaksterdam University each month—about 20 percent of them from out of state—and has graduated nearly 4,000 since he opened the school in late 2007, inspired by a “cannabis college” he discovered on a trip to Amsterdam. The Blue Sky Coffeeshop serves about 1,000 visitors a day, half of them from out of town, and neighboring stores say the traffic has helped drive business their way. Regulation, say advocates, has also made consumption safer. They say it gets rid of hazardous strains of the drug, and eliminates the crime that can accompany underground dealing.

Presently, 13 states allow medical marijuana, with similar legalization campaigns underway in more than a dozen others. And a number of cities, such as Oakland and Seattle, have passed measures making prosecution of adult pot use the lowest law enforcement priority. Now Lee, along with an army of volunteers, has begun collecting signatures for a statewide legalization measure (for Californians 21 and over) that he plans to place on the November 2010 ballot. Backed by former state Senate president Don Perata, he’s already collected a fourth of the needed 434,000 signatures, and pledged to spend $1 million of his own funds to support the effort.

In California, where voters rule, getting an amendment on the ballot doesn’t take much more than a fat wallet, but the amount of attention Lee’s campaign has received has drawn attention to just how far American attitudes have changed over the past decade. In April, an ABC/Washington Post survey showed that 46 percent of Americans support legalization measures, up from 22 percent in 1997. And in California, a recent Field Poll showed that 56 percent are already on board to legalize and tax the drug. “This is a new world,” says Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley and the coauthor of Drug War Heresies. “If you’d have asked me four years ago whether we’d be having this debate today, I can’t say I would have predicted it.”

The fact that we now are debating it—at least in some parts of the country—is the result of a number of forces that, as MacCoun puts it, have created the perfect pot storm: the failure of the War on Drugs; the growing death toll of murderous drug cartels; pop culture; the economy; and a generation of voters that have simply grown up around the stuff. Today there are pot television shows and frequent references to the drug in film, music, and books. And everyone from the president to the most successful athlete in modern history has talked about smoking it at one point or another. “Whether it’s the economy or Obama or Michael Phelps, I think all of these things have really worked to galvanize the public,” says Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and the coauthor of a new book, Marijuana Is Safer; So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”At the very least, it’s started a national conversation.”

That conversation, in some sense, has always existed. In 1972—a year after President Nixon declared his “War on Drugs”—the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse urged Congress to decriminalize possession of marijuana for personal use. That never happened, in part because marijuana regulation has always been more about politics than actual science, say advocates. But these days, the masses, at least in California, seem to be heading toward greener, shall we say, pastures. “This is sort of the trendy thing to do right now, but I also think there’s an expectation that the time has come to simply acknowledge the reality,” says Armentano. “Hundreds of thousands of Californians use marijuana, and we should regulate this commodity like we do others.” It’s a fight that’s heating up. And the pro-pot crowd in Oakland is ready to light the way. By Jessica Bennett. Source.

September 10, 2009

Dear Friends of Oaksterdam University…..

I wanted you to be the first to know that we are about to take our cannabis reform movement to the next level: legalizing, taxing, and regulating cannabis in California.

This month we will start gathering signatures to place an initiative on the November 2010 California ballot to allow adults 21 and over to possess small amounts of cannabis, give local governments the ability to tax and regulate cannabis, and help generate billions of dollars in much needed revenue for California.

In order to qualify the initiative for the ballot, we need to gather 650,000 signatures of California voters in the next 150 days, and to do that, we’re going to need your help!

Los Angeles
Sign up today for one of our upcoming volunteer meetings in Los Angeles!

Bring a friend, or two, or ten, meet fellow supporters, and find out how you can help legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis in California.

Please join us at: 7:30 PM, Friday, September 11th
Patient ID Center (Host of Oaksterdam University – Los Angeles)
470 S. San Vicente Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Oakland
Sign up today for one of our upcoming volunteer meetings in Oakland!

Bring a friend, or two, or ten, meet fellow supporters, and find out how you can help legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis in California.

Please join us at: 7:00 PM, Monday, September 14th
Oaksterdam University
1776 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

Historic Battle
This is going to be an epic, historic battle for cannabis reform in California, and we are going to need every supporter involved, so please sign up for one of our volunteer meetings today!

Together as faculty, staff, students, and volunteers from Oaksterdam University, we have worked to pass local ballot measures to reform cannabis laws in cities all over our state. Now it’s time to take our movement to the next level: reform on the statewide level.

Please sign up to get involved today.

Thank you,

Richard Lee, President, Oaksterdam University

P.S. If you can’t make it this Friday, or live outside Los Angeles, please sign up at www.taxcannabis.org to find out about future events.

July 28, 2009 – OAKLAND, California (CNN) — Richard Lee greets students, shopkeepers and tourists as he rolls his wheelchair down Broadway at the speed of Picture 37a brisk jog, hailing them with, “Hi. How ya doin’?”

In this nine-block district of Oakland, California, called Oaksterdam, Lee is a celebrity.

Oaksterdam is Lee’s brainchild, a small pocket of urban renewal built on a thriving trade in medical marijuana. The district’s name comes from a marriage of Oakland and Amsterdam, a city in the Netherlands renowned for its easy attitude toward sex and drugs.

Lee is the founder of Oaksterdam University, which he describes as a trade school that specializes in all things marijuana: how to grow it, how to market it, how to consume it. The school, which has a curriculum, classes and teachers, claims 3,500 graduates.

Lee also owns a medical marijuana dispensary, a coffee house, a large indoor marijuana plantation, and a museum/store devoted to the cause of legalizing marijuana.

“I really see this as following the history of alcohol. The way prohibition was repealed there,” Lee says, adding that he believes he is close to achieving his mission.

Lee is organizing a petition drive to place a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot in 2010, and he thinks the measure stands a good chance of being approved by voters.

A recent California Field Poll showed that more than half the people in the state, where marijuana for medical use was approved more than a decade ago, would approve of decriminalizing pot.

The state’s faltering economy is one reason why. If legalized, marijuana could become California’s No. 1 cash crop. It could bring in an estimated $1 billion a year in state taxes.

Democratic State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is spearheading a cannabis legalization bill in the California Assembly. He believes the state’s need to increase tax revenues will work in his bill’s favor.

“I think it’s a seductive part of the equation,” he says.

Ammiano says there are a number of ways legalized pot could be marketed, “It could be a Walgreens, it could be a hospital, a medical marijuana facility, whatever could be convenient. Adequate enforcement of the rules. Nobody under 21. No driving under the influence.”

Even California’s Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, says legalizing marijuana deserves serious consideration.

“I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana,” Schwarzenegger says.

But Ammiano says selling a legalized marijuana bill to his fellow legislators remains a delicate matter.

“If we held the vote in the hallway, we’d have it done,” Ammiano says. “But people are necessarily cautious. They are up for re-election.”

And that is why Lee believes voters will approve a marijuana initiative long before the state Assembly acts. Sitting under grow lights in a warehouse filled with hundreds of marijuana plants, Lee sums it up this way: “For some people cannabis is like a religion. As passionate as some people are about their religions and freedom to think what they want and to worship as they want.”

But all of that is baloney to Paul Chabot. He is president of the Coalition for a Drug Free California. He says voters should not be fooled by promises of big bucks flowing to the state from marijuana taxes.

“It’s their way of sort of desensitizing our communities, our state and our nation to a drug problem that we clearly need to put our foot down on, and say, ‘No more. Enough is enough.’ ”

Chabot points out that California’s medical marijuana law has been poorly regulated, and he expects more of the same if marijuana becomes legalized for everyone.

But a substantial number of Californians seem to believe that no amount of enforcement is going to make pot go away — and that it’s time for the state to begin taking a cut of the action. By Chuck Conder. Source.

California Desperately Needs Tax Revenue, Prompting Some to See Green in Making Grass Legal

July 13, 2009 – (CBS) A high-stakes political battle is underway in the image5153148gcash-strapped state of California. At issue is the narrowly-defined liberty people have there to grow and sell a certain plant . . . and the desire of some folks to have the state government TAX it. John Blackstone reports our Cover Story: In Oakland, Calif., Richard Lee runs a string of businesses, from coffee shops to glass blowing that are helping revitalize the once-decaying downtown.

But Lee’s business empire is built on an unusual foundation: Selling marijuana

In the back of his Blue Sky Coffee Shop there’s a steady stream of cash buyers, and not just for coffee.

“In the front you get the coffee and pastries, and in the back you get the cannabis,” Lee said.

A salesman told customers, “You’re welcome to pull the bags out and smell the herb as you like.”

What’s going on here is illegal under federal law, but permitted under California law that since 1996 has allowed marijuana for medical use.

A dozen other states have similar laws. One customer named Charles said pot is exactly what his doctor ordered.

“So that’s what relieves my anxiety and allows me to cope and feel good,” he said.

Lee has dubbed his Oakland neighborhood “Oaksterdam” . . . with a nod to Amsterdam and its liberal drug laws. His goal is to make this a tourist destination, with marijuana its main attraction.

“Does that worry people around here?” asked Blackstone.

“No, people around here love it ’cause they see how much we’ve improved the neighborhood,” Lee said.

Next door to where Lee sells marijuana, Gertha Hays sells clothes. She says the dispensary brings people from all walks of life. “There’s no particular pothead,” she said, “so everyone comes over there.”

“So these aren’t just druggies in there?” Blackstone asked.

“No, not at all. If you look and see who comes up and down the block you’ll see it’s so diverse,” Hays said.

Part of the Oaksterdam neighborhood is a nursery growing a cash crop: Medical marijuana is now estimated to be a $2 to 3 billion business in California.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of people making a lot of money,” lee said.

There are now several hundred medical marijuana dispensaries in California . . . and much more marijuana being sold on the street.

“We estimate, overall, [the] California cannabis industry is in the neighborhood of around $15 billion,” lee said.

While there is disagreement over the real size of the marijuana market it’s big enough to have captured the attention of lawmakers trying to fill a huge hole in the state budget.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is pushing legislation to legalize pot so the state can inhale new taxes.

“I thought it was high time, no pun intended, for this to be on the table,” Ammiano said. “I’m trying to beat everybody to the punch with the jokes, because I get a lot of ’em,” he laughed.

There are many who ridicule the idea, but the state tax board estimates Ammiano’s proposed tax of $50 an ounce could bring in $1.5 to 2 billion a year.

“We find that highly unlikely,” said Rosalie Pacula, of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center. She says California is likely to be disappointed by the revenue raised on marijuana that now sells for about $150 an ounce.

“If you try to impose a tax that is that high, you have absolutely no incentive for the black market to disappear,” she said. “There is complete profit motive for them to actually stay.”

The tax proposal, though, has started an unusual political discussion. According to one poll, 56 percent of California voters say marijuana should be legalized and taxed. Even California’s Republican governor has not snuffed out talk of legalization.

“No, I think it’s not time for that, but I think it’s time for debate,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. “All of those ideas for creating extra revenues, I’m always for an open debate on it.”

Check out reports on the debate over legalization in CBSNews.com’s special section “Marijuana Nation.”

Of course, Governor Schwarzenegger, from his earlier life, does have some experience . . .

. . . as does the president himself.

“I inhaled, frequently,” Mr. Obama admitted on the campaign trail, in a nod to President Bill Clinton’s earlier quasi-admission. “That was the point.”

And while the president says he is opposed to legalizing pot (“No, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy”), his administration has ordered the DEA to stop raiding state-approved medical marijuana dispensaries.

It’s a big change from decades of viewing the plant as the indisputable evil portrayed in the 1936 film “Reefer Madness.”

But that old image has been going up in smoke for decades.

It was along for the trip in 1969 in the movie “Easy Rider,” and on the cover of Life Magazine. On TV today it’s just a part of suburban life in the series “Weeds.”

And then there’s the growing recognition of marijuana as medicine.

“Marijuana has been a medicine for 5,000 years,” said Dr. Donald Abrams of San Francisco General Hospital. “It’s only for the last 70 years that it hasn’t been a medicine in this country.”

Dr. Abrams has been studying marijuana for twelve years and is convinced it is both effective and safe.

“I think marijuana is a very good medicine,” he said. “I’m a cancer doctor. I take care every day of patients who have loss of appetite, nausea, pain, difficulty sleeping and depression. I have one medicine that can treat all of those symptoms, instead of five different medicines to which they may become addicted.

“And that one is marijuana, and they’re not gonna become addicted to it?” Blackstone said.

“That’s correct,” said Dr. Abrams.

But those who have been fighting the war on drugs say that, just because marijuana may be medicine, that doesn’t mean it should be legal.

“There’s just no doubt about it that the drug cartels and the drug organizations are very much involved in the production and sale of marijuana, said Roy Wasden, police chief in Modesto, Calif., where a lot of marijuana is grown.

“You can be out walking through the national forest, and if you hike into one of these marijuana grows, you’ll be at great risk,” he said.

And drug fighters warn aging boomers that marijuana isn’t the gentle weed they remember. Today’s pot is a whole different kettle of fish

“The marijuana of the 1960s and Woodstock is not what’s being sold on the streets in the United States today, said Chief Bernard Melekian, head of the California Police Chiefs Association. “The narcotic portion, the THC of marijuana in the ’60s, hovered around one or two percent. THC today is around 27 to 30 percent.

“You have a very significantly different plant.”

Teaching people to grow that plant is another one of Richard Lee’s businesses.

Lee runs Oaksterdam University, where students also learn how to stay within the state’s medical marijuana laws.

“So you can’t plant those seeds until you know what the law is?” Blackstone asked.

“Right,” said Lee. “Vote today and get high tonight.”

Students like Darnell Blackman and Barbara Kramer see an opportunity to do good . . . and to do well . . . by growing marijuana.

“Just like aspirin or ibuprofen or any of those other medications, cannabis is just another way of helping people,” said Blackman.

“I thought maybe there was some way that I could get in the ground floor, get ahead of the curve on where this industry might be going,” said Kramer.

There are still plenty of obstacles before it’s a legal industry. Chief Wasden says this is no time for a surrender in the war on drugs.

“Fewer kids are using drugs today,” he said. “We’re not losing the war on drugs. Kids are starting to understand the negative, negative consequences of drug abuse. Do we need to introduce another dependency-driven substance into our community when in fact we’re making progress?”

But in the community now known as Oaksterdam, the drug warriors are nowhere to be seen . . . as a whole neighborhood goes to pot. Source.