(Left to right) Tajai Massey of Heiroglyphics/Souls of Mischief, Chang Yi of Smoakland/Market Daze, and Alexis Mora of Harborside standing in front of Oakland City Hall. Credit: Amir Aziz

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Market Daze, Oakland’s first city-permitted cannabis festival, will take place this Labor Day weekend at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Smoakland, an online cannabis shop and delivery service headquartered in Oakland, is hosting the event, which has been two years in the making. 

“There is no standard, formal application process here so it’s definitely been challenging to be the first and go through this gauntlet,” said Chang Yi, Smoakland’s director. “No one else [in Oakland] has been able to successfully permit a cannabis sales event.” 

Oakland-based retailers such as Harborside, Korova, and  Blunts + More will sell an array of cannabis products, and attendees will be able to sample their merchandise akin to a wine tasting. Other members of the cannabis industry, like Weedmaps, will also be present. 

“We joined the event about a month and a half ago and we’re really excited that it’s going to be the first legal sesh in Oakland,” said Alexis Mora, Harborside’s head of marketing, ”which is a big step forward for the cannabis industry.” 

The event is being held in conjunction with Hiero Day, an annual concert hosted by local music collective Hieroglyphics. Attendees can expect performances from Hieroglyphics and Grand Nationxl, as well as a Turf Inc dance battle.

Tajai Massey, recording artist and partner at Hieroglyphics Emporium, told The Oaklandside that Hieroglyphics decided to reach out to Yi after realizing Hiero Day wouldn’t happen this year in its pre-pandemic model. Smoakland, which sponsored Hiero Day in 2019, obliged. 

“Hiero Day is a tradition and we don’t want to break that tradition by continuing it as a virtual event, which people are sort of burnt out on,” Massey said. “Instead of us doing a big event and have it possibly be a super-spreader event, we decided to team up with Smoakland and make the best event we can, with safe protocols.” 

Hiero Day events will include a listening party at Moxy in Uptown from 4-8 p.m, a movie screening at 409 13th St. starting at 8 p.m (both on Saturday), and a standup comedy show at Copper Spoon on Sunday at 8 p.m. Hiero Day will conclude with performances on Monday, Sept. 6 at Frank Ogawa Plaza. 

Yi refers to Market Daze as a “sesh,” meaning a large gathering of people who get together to smoke and consume weed. Similar events are held in Oakland but are unsanctioned and advertised clandestinely. 

“There’s sessions everywhere, but this one is happening in a way that’s in compliance as far as tested products, tried and true brands, and the use of PPE and social distancing protocols,” Massey said. “This is part of a lot of our lifestyles, and it shouldn’t be hidden or treated like it’s taboo.”

Smoakland isn’t the first group to attempt hosting a permitted cannabis event in Oakland, but they are the first to successfully pull it off. In July, Edward Brown was set to host a cannabis fair he dubbed Preserving the Plant, only to be notified three days before the event about a $6,634 security fee he would have to pay the Oakland Police Department. 

Yi was also notified about the security fee but managed to pay it. He said OPD is requiring him to have one sergeant and three officers on site for each of the three days.

Paul Chambers, OPD’s strategic communications manager, told The Oaklandside that OPD officers and private security guards will be onsite and that the plan is “to have no more than 500 people in at a time.” 

Yi likened the event approval process to a marathon. ”We’ve been trying for two years to permit this,” he said. Hurdles included pausing the application process as a result of the pandemic, and finding an appropriate venue. Yi initially looked into hosting the event at a bar or restaurant, but the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control prohibits vendors from selling cannabis and alcohol together. Yi looked at several outdoor venues before settling on Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Since Oakland had never permitted a cannabis sales event, Yi said he had to meet multiple times with various city agencies to work through the application process. “Overall, the city has been very supportive,” Yi said, “but we have had some pushback here and there.” 

Harborside, which opened in 2006 and was the first dispensary in Oakland, has experienced changing attitudes towards cannabis sale and consumption. In 2016, Harborside reached a deal with federal prosecutors after a years-long attempt beginning in the early 2010s to shut the dispensary down. It was one among hundreds of California dispensaries targeted by the Justice Department under former Attorney General Eric Holder. 

“We’ve been fighting over the last couple of years to kind of bring cannabis out of the shadows and into the light,” Mora said, “and when you have events like this, it helps normalize this plant that so many people use.” 

Tickets for Market Daze are available at Smoakland.com/Events for the general admission price of $5 for single day tickets and $10 for three day tickets.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.