Oshan Cook, owner of Om Shan Tea, has been convicted of conspiracy to sell MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), the drug used to make Ecstasy, and manufacture LSD with intent to distribute. Cook was found guilty of four counts of MDMA and LSD possession and conspiracy to distribute drugs on Nov. 1. Of the four individuals charged in the conspiracy, Cook was the only one to plead not guilty and stand trial. Sentencing will take place January 17, and Cook could face life in prison.
Cook’s case has garnered support within the Mission and in New Age and progressive circles. His family members have been especially vocal supporters, even creating a video called “Tea Not Prison” that questions the usefulness of sending a peaceful man to prison.
Aaron Stevens, Cook’s brother, says that since Cook’s arrest two and half years ago the family has gone through tedious scheduling and motions, as well as other difficulties and uncertainties common to people in their situation. In some ways, he said, the conviction is almost a relief. It was as if “someone was about to stab you for two and a half years, and in 20 minutes it was all over,” he said.
Whether or not Cook is innocent has never been the point for his family, said Stevens, who prefers the term “wrongly accused.” “We’re not here to prove Oshan is innocent … our case is that he doesn’t deserve to go to prison.”
At the moment, Cook is in an Oakland jail waiting to be transferred to federal prison. Stevens recently visited his brother. “The Oakland jail system is so inhumane … they play loud rap music until 2 a.m. and then they wake them up at 6 a.m. and they have five minutes to eat breakfast,” said Stevens. “So he’s having a really hard time adjusting to that, obviously … he can’t really sleep properly.”
Despite this, Cook is at peace with jail and looking forward to a federal prison, where conditions tend to be better, according to Stevens.
Those advocating on his behalf have painted Cook as a generous soul who has dedicated his life to selling tea, educating kids and adults about wellness, and hosting 12-step meetings in his business. Stevens said that ever since high school, when Cook was occasionally bullied, “he would never fight back,” always choosing a pacifistic approach instead.
The assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case did not respond to Mission Local’s requests for an interview this week.
Cook was arrested during a Drug Enforcement Administration sting in Oakland that implicated the small business owner as a supplier to drug dealers Yuri Lambert, Victoria Vanlaanen and James Edmonds. According to court papers filed by the prosecution, a DEA agent made arrangements to buy drugs from those individuals, arrested them, and then told Edmonds to call his supplier. Cook soon arrived on the scene with a backpack containing 1.3 pounds of MDMA and materials for making LSD, and was arrested. Edmonds, Lambert and Vanlaanen pleaded guilty and will serve short prison sentences. Cook has not yet been sentenced but could be in prison for a very long time.
“Having seen the federal justice system, I would just comment on how cold it is. There’s no emotion in it all,” said Stevens. “No one would look at me in the face.”