Oakland Plan Permits 5 New Pot Dispensaries, Farms

Oakland’s dream of licensing some of the largest marijuana farms in the world was crushed by both a failed November ballot measure to legalize recreational pot and the threat of prosecution.

But the city’s hope remains.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks has drafted a plan that would permit five new dispensaries with off-site farms. The proposal does not spell it out, but Brooks has said she would like to give farms to the existing four dispensaries. Under the previous plan, farms operated independently and could have sold to any dispensary they chose.

The City Council will vote on the proposal tonight. Brooks said strong, clear regulations are vital to the plan.

Marijuana farming “is a big industry and it’s not regulated,” said Brooks. “Hopefully, we will see better access to medicine, and better quality of medicine. … It’s foolhardy to think that if we don’t do anything, that somehow this goes away.”

The plan, unlike the previous one, is seen by Brooks and co-sponsor Councilman Larry Reid as being more in line with state law for medical cannabis, giving the city some legal protection from federal prosecution.

Medical marijuana is legal in 15 states, but experts say relatively little attention has been paid to regulating its cultivation, particularly in California. The result is a mishmash of basement plots, vacant storefront mini-farms and backwoods plantations. Critics, including the City Council, say keeping the industry in the black market invites ad hoc electrical systems, burglaries and home invasions.

The Oakland proposal would cap a farm at 50,000 square feet, while the previous plan had no limits. Each farm would be required to supply at least 70 percent of its dispensary’s patient demand.

In 2009, Oakland’s four dispensaries sold 6,000 pounds of pot, which would have required 45,000 square feet of growing area, according to a city staff report.

The nine prospective farm dispensaries could provide over a fifth of the total state demand for medical marijuana if they grew the maximum allowed, according to a city analysis.

Small pot farmers, who make up the bulk of Oakland’s growers, are concerned that the size of the prospective farms will force them out of the dispensary market. It is a complaint small-scale growers had expressed in the past. Most have plots smaller than 100 square feet.

“The concept of 50,000 square feet is an utter and complete game changer,” said the owner of the 96-square-foot Wildweed Farms in West Oakland, who asked not to be named for fear of prosecution.

Experts say consumers will benefit from regulation.

“The market is saturated,” said Dale Gieringer, California director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Combined with licensed growers, “prices will go down.”

“A lot of these small growers run by the seat of their pants, trying to take advantage of an illegal system,” he said. “The premium price that marijuana has because of prohibition … will not be possible forever.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley had warned that cannabis growers and dispensers need to have a close and consistent caretaking relationship with patients. Oakland’s previous proposal, which allowed growers to act as free agents to sell to whichever dispensary they chose, did not have such a relationship.

O’Malley declined to comment on Brooks’ current proposal.

Stephen DeAngelo, owner of the Harborside Health Center dispensary is cautious about the proposal, particularly the farms’ size, which he worries might displace current small growers into the illegal market. Nonetheless, he views farm permits as important.

“By bringing cultivations out of the shadows and into the light, we’d be able to better ensure the safety of the medicine,” he said.

– Article from The San Francisco Chronicle.