While most of the country is embroiled in debate on marijuana legalization, for the past 10 years many Oakland residents have been taking advantage of Measure Z, which makes private use of pot by adults the Police Department's lowest enforcement priority.
Since the measure passed in 2004, so-called Measure Z clubs — speakeasies of sorts — have popped up all over Oakland. They sell pot to adults with little interference from the city. But after years of a hands-off, quiet enforcement approach, Oakland police have raided and shut down three clubs in the past few months.
Joe DeVries, staffer for Oakland's Cannabis Regulatory Commission, says that, in the past, Measure Z clubs have closed after the city received complaints from neighboring businesses, residents or sometimes concerned parents and were told to shut their doors.
"Since Measure Z popped up, the city has taken the abatement approach, and that has been enough," DeVries says. "Send a letter, request a visit or schedule a visit, and that was enough."
In two of the recent cases, cease-and-desist letters were sent to the now-closed Measure Z clubs after the city got numerous complaints. But the clubs stayed open and "forced the city's hand," DeVries says.
The third instance occurred when police were investigating drug use in North Oakland's Bushrod Park and were tipped off to a club not far from there.
"The intent [of Measure Z] was to get marijuana sales out of the streets and away from children," DeVries says. "If marijuana is only being sold to adults at a private club, you are taking marijuana out of the neighborhood and away from children."
Some of the conflict around Measure Z clubs arises from the wording of city regulations that enacted Measure Z. In 2005, the City Council adopted a definition of the kind of private cannabis offenses that were not covered by the measure. In essence, the council's resolution said the Oakland Police Department's "lowest enforcement priority" would not apply to pot sold in any commercial setting:
Private adult cannabis offenses do not include the use, sale, distribution, preparation and/or cultivation in settings that are not private, including but not limited to markets, stores, cabarets, establishments selling alcoholic beverages, cafes and restaurants, retail outlets, stores and other commercial establishments. ...
While many club owners argue they're running "private" establishments, the city says some of the clubs fall under the definition of commercial enterprises not protected by Measure Z.
"It is a fascinating gray area in a city that, from a policy perspective, they would like to see cannabis treated similarly to alcohol," DeVries says. "But we have to wait until state law changes."