Protesters Greet Obama in Oakland
In response to the continued crackdown on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries by the U.S. attorney’s office, several hundred pro-cannabis protesters marched through downtown Oakland to ensure that President Barack Obama wasn’t the only one delivering a message Monday, July 23.
The visit to Oakland was the first that Obama has made since becoming president; as a candidate he spoke at a rally in the city in 2007.
Hours before the president appeared at the Fox Theater before 2,000 attendees for an evening fundraising event, storefronts in the area put up green flags to support the pro-cannabis rally. As protesters amassed outside City Hall waiting to march, an early afternoon press conference was held by medical marijuana advocates two blocks away at Oaksterdam University, a marijuana educational facility raided by federal agents in April, to address the Obama administration’s attack of marijuana businesses legal under California law.
The commencement of the cannabis crackdown last fall has resulted in numerous medical marijuana dispensaries across the state being closed despite Obama’s 2008 promise to respect medical marijuana state laws and a 2009 statement from Attorney General Eric Holder that dispensaries would not be raided. The demonstration also came in timely response to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s recent property forfeiture action against Harborside Health Center, a dispensary with over 100,000 patients and locations in Oakland and San Jose.
Standing before nearly 100 people at Oaksterdam’s press conference, Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside Health Center, called for an "immediate freeze" on all federal enforcement actions taken against medical marijuana organizations until the Department of Justice could conclude that only illegal operations were being targeted.
"Harborside Health Center is not only 100 percent compliant with all local regulations and state law," DeAngelo said, "we set the gold standard for the distribution of medical cannabis."
The effect of closing medical marijuana dispensaries on patients was underlined during the press conference by two individuals personally affected by medical cannabis use. Yvonne Westbrook-White, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and depended on Oaksterdam’s student garden, attributed her ability to "get out of the house that day" to cannabis use.
Jason David, whose toddler son suffers from a severe form of epilepsy called Dravet syndrome, said that after giving his child cannabinoid tinctures bought from Harborside, the epileptic seizures decreased significantly. He addressed the Obama administration directly:
"You guys are trying to shut [Harborside] down," David said. "What am I going to do after that? Go to the street where they don’t test it?"
Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, reminded the crowd that medical cannabis was legalized by California voters in 1996 to "treat symptoms for cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and chronic pain."
"An attack on the access to patients is an attack on the patients themselves," Duncan said.
Outside during the protest, a Harborside Health Center employee who didn’t want his name printed, echoed the point.
"Obama really needs to leave medical cannabis alone," he said. "The worst thing for a seriously ill person to have to worry about is where they’re going to find the medicine that’s bringing them relief."
While the cannabis protesters had mostly dispersed by the time Obama arrived at the Fox Theatre around 6:37 p.m., Occupy Oakland protesters picked up where they left off and joined the hundreds of spectators raised to their toes to see the president enter the theater.
The Bay Area Reporter was not allowed inside the Fox, due to space limitations, according to an email from the Obama campaign.
Taking the stage at 7:56 p.m. to a deafening standing ovation, according to the pool report, Obama talked about his family’s hard-working background, a point he expected to resonate with Oaklanders. He went on to explain that those who are willing to work hard, put sweat into their efforts, must be able to succeed in America.
"America is a place where you can make it if you try," he said.
The president advocated tax increases for the rich, noted the continued pullout of Iraq and then Afghanistan, said more money should be invested in the country’s educational facilities and that getting people health insurance through his health care plan is "the right thing to do."
According to the pool report the president did not mention medical marijuana.
He also emphasized that it would take more than one term to see his vision for America through and called upon Oakland to help him.
Concluding his speech at 8:34 p.m., Obama said, "I promise you we will finish what we started and remind the world just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on earth."