Oakland considers rules for large pot operations

October 6, 2010 12:10:55 AM PDT
Oakland could soon become the first city in the country to make growing pot in large warehouses legal. Tuesday night, the Oakland City Council started hammering out the details on how to begin issuing permits to run the factories and just four of them will be awarded.

In a matter of months growing pot in Oakland could look quite official, with row after row of budding plants tended to by workers in white lab coats.

"This is an industry that already exists; why not bring it out of the dark and into the light?" Gropech co-founder Derek Peterson said.

Peterson wants to convert a former glass factory into a 57,000 square foot marijuana factory. He hopes to get one of four coveted permits to operate a pot warehouse in Oakland -- the first city in the country to legalize pot growing on this scale.

Those permits will be given out by the city based on points. 200 points for the best business model, 50 for the best security plan and a 100 bonus points for those who grow cannabis without pesticides.

Oakland now collects nearly $1 million a year in medical marijuana sales, but when the massive pot factories open, the city's revenues could grow by millions.

But it is not just the money. City Council President Jane Brunner says large scale grow houses will actually make Oakland safer.

"I think it's safer to have a lot (of marijuana in factories) in the flatlands by in the industrial areas than, which is what's happening in my district, having two fancy houses and they were full of growers," she said.

That is not what some in the East Oakland neighborhoods where most of the factories will be located say.

"A marijuana shop pops up in here ain't no telling what's going to happen," Al Gabriel said.

Peterson says his factory will be the equivalent of a marijuana Fort Knox, with round the clock armed security. He has already done well in the medical marijuana business and if he gets that permit he is sure the warehouse could be a $50-$60 million a year business.

On Tuesday night, the city sent the selection process back to committee unfinished.

Meanwhile, prospective pot growers are negotiating huge land deals in anticipation of becoming one of the chosen. The pool of 179 candidates includes some heavy hitters with some deep pockets.

Council Member Larry Reid has the most industrial land in his district.

"I've got a meeting request from Montel Williams to meet with him this week. There are a number of serious players," said Reid.

Williams is also appearing with Council Member Rebecca Kaplan at a fundraiser for her mayoral bid. Officially, Williams will have to submit a bid that will be based on points given out.

Each candidate will need $1 million in capitol just to sit at the table.

In the discussion, council members wanted the process to include more emphasis on the applicant's security plan and collective bargaining.

In late December, between six to 10 candidates will be chosen and on December 20 the four permits will be awarded.


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