From “Green Zone” to War Zone: The Clash Between Pot and Art in Oakland

The unlikely clash between Oakland’s marijuana industry and its artistic class has come to a head and forced the city into action. Now, the question is whether a new policy preventing cannabis businesses from snatching up artists’ properties will end the feud once and for all.

We first wrote about the growing rift between Big Marijuana and Oakland’s creative sector in 2016. At its core is the deeply Californian issue of real estate scarcity and unaffordability.

The conflict was on full display again in November when marijuana real estate company Green Sage purchased the Cannery — a decades-long hub for artists, musicians, and writers in Oakland — for $14 million. It soon began the process of evicting the tenants to make way for marijuana manufacturing.

The tenants took their case to City Hall and won. This month, the City Council amended its commercial marijuana ordinance to prevent cannabis businesses from displacing local artists.

“Profits do not require displacing people from their homes; there’s plenty of other non-residential space available for cannabis investors,” said Cannery resident and writer/performance artist Rebecca Firestone. “There is another way, and that is for us to coexist peacefully together.”

Some artists worry cannabis enterprises could still find a way around the law. But for now, they are happy to see the city taking action to support its vibrant art community. It’s a trend they hope could one day follow in other Bay area cities with sky-high real estate prices and sizeable creative sectors — big marijuana, be damned.


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