Several hundred medical marijuana patients and their allies took to the streets of Oakland Monday in an unprecedented show of support for besieged dispensary Harborside Health Center. Timed to coincide with an East Bay fundraising stop by President Obama, the rally to protest the nine-month-long federal crackdown on medical marijuana drew many of the major leaders of the movement and a broad show of support from Oaklanders.
Patient lobby Americans for Safe Access, alongside the National Cannabis Industry Association, Harborside, and cannabis college Oaksterdam University, helped sponsor the day-long action, which was centered around a five-hour protest in Oakland city hall plaza. Events got underway at 1:45 p.m. at a press conference on the grounds of raided weed school Oaksterdam, where chancellor Dale Sky Jones said she felt a bit of déjà vu protesting the feds' forfeiture complaint against Harborside just a few months after Oaksterdam was raided.
Federal raids of dispensaries show the misplaced priorities of the government, she said, "and as a mother, I feel this is simply tragic for the victims of violence that don't have the full resources of law enforcement."
Oakland resident Yvonne Westbrook White told the media that Oaksterdam's curriculum included working on cannabis plants that were to be donated to her. White said she uses marijuana to treat her multiple sclerosis. "I wouldn't have made it down here today without cannabis. I appeal to the president to please keep your promise. Leave cannabis patients alone."
The Alameda County Democratic Party also came out to condemn the raids. "This is insane," said Bob Swanson, a staff member of Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley. "President Obama's prosecutors have gone rogue. They've gone Sarah Palin." Swanson implored the president to "stop this madness."
Retired Orange County Judge Jim Gray, a former prosecutor and assistant US Attorney, said Haag had shamed the esteemed office of the US Attorney. "I am horrified by all of this," he said. "Nothing good will come from closing Harborside."
Libertarian party vice-presidential nominee Gray encouraged listeners to vote for Libertarian party presidential candidate Gary Johnson. "Understand, world. There is no hope for any medical marijuana to survive within the next year or two if either Romney or Obama is elected," he said.
Harborside operator Steve DeAngelo said the forfeiture case of the world's largest dispensary will be a symbolic referendum on medical marijuana as a whole. The federal government has begun forfeiture proceedings against the dispensary's landlord, who has fifty days to file a claim and answer the forfeiture complaint.
Some Harborside staff said they fear a pre-dawn raid every day. But DeAngelo also hinted that Harborside has secret supporters within the Department of Justice, whom he thanked.
DeAngelo also called on the president to freeze enforcement actions against medical marijuana businesses, and conduct a high-level review of Department of Justice actions in light of the president's stated policy. "Cannabis people have learned how to turn tragedy into triumph, and we are going to do this again," he said. "This is a watershed moment for our movement. It's time for us to stand, and we are standing and sending a message that is too loud and powerful to ignore."
Jason David, who lives in Modesto, implored the president to think of his own children. As the Express previously reported, David's son Jayden suffers from a rare form of epilepsy that is managed by cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive molecule found in cannabis and used in a medicinal tincture (see "Turning Pot Into Medicine," 6/20/12). "If your daughters had the same epilepsy my son has, what would you do?" he asked. Only a professional dispensary can treat his son, he said, and David fears Harborside's closure. "Mr. Obama, I want an answer."
Americans for Safe Access leader Don Duncan said an attack on dispensaries is an attack on patients, because "when we shut down patient access, we attack patients," he said.
The hundreds of supporters that had gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza marched soon after, peacefully taking over Broadway. Carrying signs that read "Fight Crime, Not Cannabis" and chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, Melinda Haag has got to go," the group took its message up Telegraph Avenue, past throngs of generally nonplussed Oaklanders dressed up and waiting in line to enter the Fox Theater for one of three Obama fundraisers that day. Tickets to the Fox event started at $100. The other events were two reported $38,500-per-person fundraisers with the president in Piedmont and Oakland.
An Oakland-based mechanical engineer who would only give his name as "Abe" stood in awe of the weed march. "This is a good crowd, no kidding. Look at this. I like it. It's people expressing themselves," he said, sniffing the herb-scented air. "It's a medicine, and the federal government is taking it too far. They should stop that attorney."
Abe witnessed the federal raid on Oaksterdam near his office in April and said he is "disappointed" in President Obama. He voted for him in 2008 but said he won't be voting for him, or Mitt Romney, in 2012, indicating that he thought the entire political system is corrupt.
"Whoever pays more money will win the election," he said. "It could be Obama, it could be the KKK. Marijuana is not the issue in this country. Federal authorities are making it an issue."
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