Newly released records from the Oakland Police Department provide conclusive evidence that the world’s largest medical pot dispensary, Harborside Health Center, and the famed cannabis college, Oaksterdam University, do not attract crime — thereby refuting allegations that such places are menaces to society. According to records of OPD calls, incidents, and arrests, Harborside, which sees 700 to 1,000 patients a day, was the site of just one arrest in almost four years — and that involved a non-patient who tried to get into the club.
Oaksterdam University generated two arrests stemming from protests during the April 2 federal raid of the school. Eleven other recorded arrests logged at the location stemmed from police car stops, vagrancy, and other issues unrelated to the institution.
The Oakland Police Department logs were obtained via a California Public Records Act request made by Berkeley programmer Rich Jones. OPD did not respond to requests for comment on the logs.
“Harborside has a great safety record,” wrote co-founder and operator Stephen DeAngelo in an email. “In six years of operation serving our 112,000 patients, we have not experienced a single act of violence, a single robbery or burglary, or even a serious attempt. I am confident that our robust security presence has made our neighborhood safer in general, and on several occasions we have provided direct assistance to OPD.”
Dale Sky Jones, chancellor of Oaksterdam University, wrote in an email: “We have a fantastic relationship with OPD. … The only time we had interaction with OPD was to help them investigate neighborhood crimes (not school-related, just as a neighbor).”
Oaksterdam founder and former chancellor Richard Lee chaired the downtown area neighborhood crime prevention committee for two years, Sky Jones noted. “We have a strong history of improving our neighborhood, increasing foot traffic and small business sales in our area,” she added. “In fact, it is sad to see how quickly Oaksterdam starts to deteriorate without Richard’s stewardship.”
Lee stepped down as chancellor of Oaksterdam this summer to fight potential federal charges after the college was raided by federal agents. Harborside could be raided by the feds any day, and is fighting forfeiture attempts in court this fall.
Medical cannabis opponents have long alleged that dispensaries are a magnet for loitering and weed smoking, as well as burglaries and robberies. In the Northern District, US Attorney Melinda Haag generally doesn’t comment on her yearlong crackdown, but has said in interviews that medical pot clubs are a danger to public safety. OPD logs tell a different tale.
During the only arrest at Harborside on July 7, 2009, a security guard blocked Nai Saephan from trying to enter the facility without a doctor’s recommendation and a valid ID. As Saephan left, he “intentionally swerved his vehicle” at Harborside staff, so the club called OPD, which picked him up on 16th Avenue.
In a review of non-arrest incidents, Harborside Health Center reported the use of a stolen credit card, as well as multiple incidences of found property, and a vandalized stolen vehicle parked illegally across the street. OPD also performed many car stops in front of Harborside, which is located at 1840 Embarcadero, “a favorite spot for pullovers from I-880, which are unrelated to HHC,” DeAngelo stated. “I suspect that a comparison of OPD reports for any other retail store that serves 700 to 1,000 customers per day would reveal a larger number of more serious incidents than is reflected in the OPD reports for 1840 Embarcadero.”
Over at Oaksterdam, at 1600 Broadway, police made many unrelated car stops on the busy thoroughfare, arresting three men for robbery and kidnapping with a loaded firearm at 5 a.m. on September 25, 2010 — a time when the cannabis university was closed. On July 8, 2010, three people were arrested for remaining at the scene of a riot and vandalism. Two were arrested for strong-arm robberies on September 14, 2009, and two men for drunk and disorderly conduct in 2009.
None of the arrests were Oaksterdam-related, Sky Jones stated. “We cleaned up the streets of downtown Oakland, paid for and championed support for the Lighthouse Charter High School, the Fox Theater restoration, and the Ambassador Community Safety Program — so you can walk our streets at night,” Sky Jones wrote. “We have been part of the solution for Oakland.”
The OPD data is just a slice of the picture, of course. For a more sophisticated examination of the relationship between dispensaries and crime, there’s the report “Exploring the Ecological Association Between Crime and Medical Marijuana Dispensaries” in the July issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, in which UCLA researchers Nancy J. Kepple and Bridget Freisthler found that crime is not associated with pot shop density.
So what is associated with violent and property crime? According to the study: “… percentage of commercially zoned areas, percentage of one-person households, … unemployment rate … concentrated disadvantage. … [and] the percentage of population 15—24 years of age.”
This is the exact type of marginal neighborhood usually zoned for medical pot clubs. Scapegoating such businesses clearly doesn’t add up, but hey, that’s why it’s called scapegoating.