Nearly two years ago I wrote an article that pondered the effects of legalized marijuana on California's cities. The options, for those cities that didn't forbid cannabis entirely, seemed to range from stoner wastelands to magical communities of mellowness.
Back then, the state was on the verge of transcending the medical marijuana movement and in fact legalizing recreational use for all adults. Oakland's Oaksterdam "University"--which teaches about the cultivation and sale of cannabis--and its proprietor Richard Lee were at the center of this movement, claiming that legalized marijuana would be good for everyone: good for patients who needed relief, good for adults who needed the occasional mental vacation, and--not insignificantly--good for taxing entities that could finally cash in on an enormous, but previously untaxed, portion of California's economy.
My article traced, in part, the potential effect that legalization would have on the urban environment. If you've been to the real Amsterdam, you know that coffee shops figure prominently in the streetscapes of some neighborhoods, to the delight of tourists. Though I am personally ambivalent about marijuana, I figured that enterprising cities might attempt to replicate Amsterdam's success (minus the canals and Rembrants), and Oakland seemed like the leading contender (with Eureka not far behind). This week, the federal government--with apparently no backing or cooperation from local officials--lodged its objection to this notion.
Agents of the DEA, IRS, and federal marshalls raided Richard Lee's home Monday, with the intent of shutting down his legally operating business. Reports indicate that "dozens" of agents took part in the raid and used such devices as battering rams and power tools to breach Lee's defenses. Lee is a wheelchair-bound paraplegic; he uses marijuana to control his pain. Now his institution seems all but defunct. At nearly the same moment that the feds was busying itself with weed -- and a 10-minute drive away -- seven people at another institution of learning, Oikos University, lost their lives at the hands of a disturbed, but apparently stone-cold sober, criminal.
When I wrote on the legalization two years ago, I spoke with Rebecca Kaplan, the Oakland City Council member who has long championed the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. She spoke of the value of legal cannabis in no uncertain terms. Oakland has already cashed in, levying a significant city tax on what has been, in large part, a peaceful economic activity. And, by some accounts, the city has benefited. Oaksterdam has already become something of a neighborhood hub, in an area between downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt.
I'm not going to posit whether or not this is a good thing--that should be up to the people of Oakland--but I will point out that the forces of urban development often work in strange, unpredictable, and fascinating ways. Great cities are great in part because they house diverse peoples. They allow like-minded groups to congregate and create communities, often for everyone's benefit. So far, I haven't heard any reports indicating that Oakland is any worse off.
The forces that bring people together and subsequently shape neighborhoods are economic, cultural, and ethnic. But they can also be legal. Certain laws, some with no particular mind to land use, have profound impacts on the urban environment. In California's case, the legalization of cannabis allows cannabis enthusiasts to congregate. They can share ideas and gain a sense of dignity that many of them--especially those for whom marijuana is truly medically necessary--may not have experienced heretofore. If this openness gives rise to coffee shops, cafes, and even "universities" where well meaning patients and users can cease to be marginalized, so be it.
In a city that has suffered riots, racial strife, chronic unemployment, and all manner of derision (cf. Gertrude Stein), it's hard to say that Lee, Kaplan, and law-abiding cannabis enthusiasts don't know what they're doing.
We can be fairly certain that Oikos shooter One L. Goh was not in his right mind. Whether the DEA was, and whether Oakland will be better for it... that's probably an open question.