Joshua Chase and Oakanna stand out when the smoke clears
The Oakanna cannabis store bears quite a few distinctions. For one, it’s the first cannabis dispensary approved to be on Oakland’s busy Lakeshore Avenue promenade. Oakanna owner Joshua Chase, who describes himself as the CEO/janitor, was co-owner of other spots, but understands this distinction.
“I’ve strived for this location to have prices that people like, not just Piedmont people, not just the Lake Merrit people, but also because we are right here by the 580 Freeway and since most of Oakland is East Oakland, all of Oakland,” Chase said. “I’m from East Oakland, and I want my own neighborhood to come over here. We want the people that go to the cloud sessions and folks who usually just go to their local weed man.”
Chase, who just recently has gotten off of a wheeled crutch, still walks with a limp due to an attempted robbery just as the store opened.
“Weed is a very interesting space. It’s a very up and coming space. And we’re in a time right now where the police just do not have a budget to protect all weed businesses. I literally put blood, sweat and tears into all my businesses, and weed has always been targeted,” Chase said.
“I had a situation in which we had a robbery and I got hit with a ricochet bullet. At the end of the day, I had to protect my business. I had to protect the people in my business, and I also had to protect the livelihood of my employees. As a leader, I will always do that, and I feel like every good CEO would put themself into that kind of danger to support and be a good leader for their people.”
Chase’s outlook on this incident is a distinction as well. Instead of anger or bitterness, his compassion for the underserved only grew in light of the circumstances people are facing.
“Being an entrepreneur is dangerous. Living in a metropolitan area, period, no matter where you are, all across the nation, is going to have an element of danger. Riding an airplane is dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous. So me picking the weed industry, yes, I did pick something dangerous, but weed in this day and age is no different than Jamba Juice,” he said.
“We are not the only ones being targeted. All cash businesses, from Top Dog to Buckingham Liquors, are getting robbed on Lakeshore. Even the 76 gas station got robbed. We must consider the young kids that do not have an outlet to work and make money and have to turn to other resources to survive. We’re going to be in this situation until we as a community can uplift our youth and give them certain types of jobs.
“We’re going to deal with things like ‘bipping’ or car break-ins and petty crimes until then, and it’s not just happening in Oakland. It’s happening in San Francisco, it’s happening in Los Angeles, it’s happening in every place that has over 500,000 people in population. Other dispensaries have had these kinds of incidents every couple of weeks, so for me to only have one run-in tells me that I’m very blessed. Oakanna feels very protected, and I’m almost at a full recovery at this point.”
What makes Chase and Oakanna stand out is experience and maturity. As he said at the end of this interview, “This isn’t my first rodeo.”
“I’ve been in legal weed for quite some time,” he said. “I graduated college with a financial and economics degree from Santa Clara University in 2011, during the recession. It was a really hard time for a young Black person to get a job in the financial sector. When I got back to Oakland, I ended up doing some temporary placement and accounting work, just whatever I could do. But then, I said to myself, ‘I don’t pick the wave. I always just ride the wave.’ I’m not making this wave, I’m just riding it out, and that needs to change.
“Then, just when I was graduating college, they legalized weed in Washington in 2012. I dropped everything I was doing in California, because of the passing of Measure Z and Proposition 215, and started doing little grow spots in Washington, but wanted to take it to the next step.”
Chase spent from 2012 to 2017 in Washington, where he opened a 30 acre farm with a 30,000 square feet grow canopy. He also had one of the first extraction licenses in Washington State, which was one of the first in the country.
“I got my footing there,” he said “And what ends up happening is the government gave out too many grow licenses and not enough retail store licenses, so there’s a crazy amount of supply, but you can’t really sell it. When your price-point goes from $15 a gram to $7, that really changes your business model, right?”
Instead of seeing this oversight as a setback, Chase saw an opportunity.
“When Washington’s movement was kind of fizzling down, the popularity was starting to go into California, New Mexico, Arizona, New Jersey, New York. Washington for me was just a short term opportunity, and when I came back to California, I asked myself, ‘How can I use this to my benefit?’
“The easiest thing for me to do is to start another weed brand, and be like the Jungle Boys, the Backpack Boys, the popular street brands, or I could take a lottery on retail because no matter what lot retail floats. If the industry gets to $5 an eighth, I can still sell it and make my same margin as if I were selling a $10 eighth or $15 eighth. I realized in Washington that the retail stores were recession proof.”
Like many Black people in the rising cannabis market, Chase benefited from Oakland’s Cannabis Equity Initiative, but even then, there was a distinction.
“Without the equity program, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “I’ve been given a lot of assistance from the city, but the reason I’m a little bit different as an equity recipient is because Okanna is not an equity business. We competed with everyone from all across the North Bay area that did a process in which you applied and it was a point based system. We actually beat out hundreds of applicants as an equity for this location, which is very rare.”
Chase is not only distinctively green when it comes to cannabis. Oakanna has a unique community clean up plan that is already seeing positive results.
“Everyone else was cleaning the lake,” he said, “They were cleaning these areas of Oakland that people see, like Piedmont, Rockridge, Claremont. Our plan was to start at the lake, here at 3238 Lakeshore, and clean all the way to East 12th. Our goal is every three months to take a new patch of Oakland and clean it, and within two years we want to be able to say that we’ve cleaned all sections of Oakland. Right now, we’re going from the lake to East 12th. Then we’re going from east 12th to The Dubs (20th Street and beyond).
“As a collective, we can say we’re not only for the community; we’ve helped clean the entire community. It’s an easy process that makes us feel good about what we do because it’s not just about making money in a place you’re from; it’s also about giving things to the place you’re from. We strive to be a community asset. We want our neighbors to feel protected and see that we are a positive presence. Just by us just being here, car burglaries have declined.”
As the holiday season approaches, Chase and Oakanna are offering the gift of green to the entirety of Oakland in several ways. One of the particular curiosities will be their mystery boxes.
“We’re running a special this Christmas with $100 mystery boxes. It’s a great deal,” he said. “We have two tiers of mystery boxes. One tier will be the lower end of outdoor products, cartridges and pre-rolls. The higher tier will include high grade products and it’ll come wrapped in a package. Plus, there will be deep discounts by buying the box for your loved ones.”
As the East Bay Express often reports, the cannabis industry is fraught with complications, setbacks and disappointments. This is why it’s important to highlight the triumphs of this burgeoning industry and its contributions to the state, the city and the community. Even as readers see the struggles, Chase and Oakanna show the growth, positivity and gifts that can be found there.
“Going into 2023, I’ve opened one of the largest locations in Oakland. I’ve been able to sell that location. We are now the third largest dispensary in Oakland already within our first six months,” Chase said, beaming. “We’ve gained over 11,000 customers due to our marketing, our customer service, us being friendly and showing that we really care about our customers. We’re gradually growing and growing and growing.
“Weed for me has been a long journey that I didn’t necessarily pick, but it was the time. It was this sleeping giant. I’d say if I was in the 1920s, it would’ve been houses. If I was in the 1940s, it would’ve been alcohol. In the 1990s, it would’ve been in tech. This was just my sleeping giant. I don’t think of myself as a weed man. I’m a business owner that is operating weed operations currently; this is what it is now. After this, I hope to get into commercial real estate and keep snowballing my overall entrepreneurial lifestyle.”