Pot club counts police HQ among new neighbors

September 15, 2005

Cecily Burt, Oakland Tribune

In a month's time, the once-thriving Oaksterdam district has lost all but one of its medical marijuana outlets, and the number of permitted pot clubs citywide has dwindled to two.

California Advocate Relief Exchange has taken root at Seventh Street and Broadway, sandwiched between a tattoo parlor and bail bonds business, across the street from Oakland police headquarters.

The owners were forced to relocate from 19th Street and Telegraph Avenue because city laws do not allow medical pot outlets within 1,000 feet of churches or schools. Mayor Jerry Brown's School for the Arts relocated to the Fox Theater last year, and CARE had to move to keep its permit, said Stacey Traylor of CARE.

Two other clubs — Compassionate Caregivers at 2135 Broadway and the nonprofit Oakland Compassionate Resource Center at 578 W. Grand Ave. — were given 90-day permit extensions so they could fix building code violations noted when they received their licenses last year.

When both businesses failed to get the work done by Sept. 7, their permits expired, and they had to stop dispensing marijuana. The dispensaries have reapplied for permits, but they must compete with five other applicants for two available licenses that will be awarded later this month, something that neither business feels is fair.

City hearing officer Barbara Killey said she gave the businesses 90-day permit extensions because the city had not provided a list of code violations to the clubs last year. But when they did not complete the work, she said she had no choice but to make them reapply to be fair to other applicants.

In the meantime, CARE and SR71 at 377 17th St. are the only outlets in Oakland for patients to legally obtain the medicinal herb.

That's a far cry from the days when downtown Oakland's tiny, wedgeshaped neighborhood between Broadway and Telegraph Avenue was dubbed Oaksterdam because of pot clubs and cafes that sprang up before the city stepped in and regulated them last year.

Since June, Oakland has limited to four the number of permitted medical cannabis outlets. In addition to restrictions about locating close to schools, youth centers or churches, clubs cannot operate within 1,000 feet of each other.

Traylor said CARE was forced to move very quickly and had just opened in the new location 10 days ago. Traylor prefers to operate her club in relative obscurity, and there are no signs on the darkened windows or door. Two serious security guards limit entry to those carrying valid medical cards, but it has become the worst-kept secret in town, despite her efforts.

Oakland police Lt. Paul Berlin said he was surprised the club popped up across the street. He said it is probably less likely it will become a target of takeover robberies such as the one that recently occurred at a club near San Leandro, but he couldn't rule it out.

"I don't know how they even got down here," he said. "One of my walking officers saw somebody coming out with a little plastic bag, so I started watching and saw people going in and out all day."

Marc Sean, 45, of Alameda has a prescription for marijuana for insomnia and chronic back pain from an old car accident. He said at first he thought the new location near police headquarters was a little odd, then he figured it was probably a good thing, especially since Oaksterdam is starting to look pretty deserted again.

"Nobody's stupid enough to rob here," he said. "I feel safer. The criminal element will take you down anywhere, but at 19th and Telegraph, many times I walked out the door and thought, 'I'll just let that guy get a few blocks away before I leave.'"


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