Weed People: Salwa Ibrahim

Few cities have struggled for marijuana reform the way that Oakland has. Long before national opinion started to shift and recreational legalization initiatives stood a chance, Oakland fought the state and federal government for the right to provide patients in need with weed.

The federal government set one of its first precedents on legal medical marijuana by ruling against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Co-op in 2001, but the city maintained its progress against prohibition nonetheless. In 2001 and 2004, Oakland passed ordinances to establish proper licensing and make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority for city police, respectively. In 2007, the city became home to Oaksterdam University, the nation’s first marijuana institution aiming to legitimize skills of the cannabis trade. Then in 2012, federal agents raided the university along with marijuana dispensaries under the operation of its founder, activist Richard Lee. It was a huge blow to one of the country’s oldest and most advanced cannabis communities, and it renewed fears of federal interference in California medical marijuana.

Alongside Lee throughout this ordeal was Salwa Ibrahim, an instrumental organizer within the construct and an outspoken advocate for legalization in the area. Ibrahim has seen Oakland medical marijuana through some of its most trying times and remains a fixture in the city’s weed scene as the manager of a dispensary called Blum Oakland. In this week’s Weed People, Ibrahim sheds some light on her views on legalization.

Describe your involvement with cannabis in all aspects, personal, professional, etc.

Before entering the cannabis space, I worked for a development firm that was spearheading an effort to revitalize downtown Oakland through the redevelopment of the Oakland Fox Theater. My responsibility was to reach out to the community and help fundraise for this important project. At the time there were a number of cannabis businesses that surrounded the theater. The local cannabis industry was always the first to set up and donate or raise money critical to the project. In the end, the Oaksterdam Community was the second-largest private donor, after Bank of America. After the theater opened in early 2009, I realized that I, too, wanted to be in the cannabis industry and went on to help campaign for Prop 19, which failed by a slim margin. I then applied for my own cannabis club and was ranked number one in a competitive process in Oakland. My dispensary, Blum Oakland, has been in operation for two years and sees about 700+ patients a day.

We are lucky to live in a place where our local government is very clear about what they expect from our business. Where, when, and how we operate is spelled out in our ordinances and complements the CA state laws. The city makes it easy to communicate with them and helps us if there is an issue. Where it gets tricky is if you want to do business outside of your local area, because every municipality has their own set of rules and regulations.

What are some of the victories of state-level legalization in your area?

The clearest victory I can see is that cannabis-related issues have become a platform for state and local politicians. It has become an issue that is discussed and is no longer taboo to talk about at a political debate. From conservative candidate for Attorney General Ron Gold (R), to progressive Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D), to just about everyone running for office in Oakland, these leaders are letting their support for cannabis reform be known.

What are some of the failures of state-level legalization in your area?

We still have a long way to go! There has been a ton of effort to pass laws that would allow for legalization, but unfortunately, nothing has passed yet. I am putting my support towards Reform CA, a group of Californians who are organizing for the 2016 elections. If California, the eighth largest economy in the world, can demonstrate sensibly policy that allows for full legalization we can change the course of the cannabis movement in the country and the world.

Do you believe the federal government is making progress towards decriminalization or legalization?

The mainstreaming of cannabis has sparked a national curiosity of its potential. I think more and more people are looking to our government for answers and they are responding. The most recent example I can think of is earlier this year when the Washington Post reported that government agencies are increasing production of cannabis to “provide a continuous and uninterrupted supply of marijuana in support of DEA-registered researchers.” There have also been reports of attempts to solve banking-related issues, which are signs of progress.

I would like to think between five to 10 years. Even then, I think we will see that some areas will not be as receptive, similar to how some places have wet and dry counties.

I would say between 15-20 years. As more and more research and data surrounding the negative effects of prohibition is released it will be difficult to argue against legalization. Still, I can imagine some countries still taking a hard stance against full legalization.

What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on a state level?

Forming a policy that everyone can get behind seems to be the biggest issue. However, the more education that people have regarding the subject the more likely we can pass progressive laws and dispel myths.

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