Oakland council approves large-scale pot farm plan


Supporters say Oakland needs the money from license fees and property taxes from the growing operations, but critics say the city council is pushing the idea too fast.

City officials are concerned about the producers of marijuana in Oakland. They say more regulation is needed for small growers and because of illegal warehouses. A plan approved Tuesday night will change all that, but some say it will not be for the better.

There are currently hundreds of local medical marijuana producers at operations ranging in size from 100 square feet to 1,000 square feet. It is a mish-mash that concerns Oakland city councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.

"We voted both to create a system that would permit the industrial-scale facilities where you can produce food, tinctures, do testing, and we also voted to come back with a system to permit the small-scale growers," she says.

The plan would allow licensing for four warehouse-sized growers and a yet to be determined number of medium-sized growers to provide the 3 tons of marijuana sold at the dispensaries in Oakland every year.

Some say that is too few licenses, but James Anthony, the attorney for the Harborside Health Center which sells medical marijuana, says the move could drive hundreds of smaller growers out of business. Some of those growers have been supplying the pot since the beginning of the medical marijuana movement.

"Is it government's role to pick the winners and say, 'Oh, it's only the factories who can only have the Colombo bread, the 29 cent tomatoes? Or, is it the government's job to provide a level playing field and say, 'You can have the mass production and you can also have the small, organic, boutique product as well?" Anthony asks.

Oaksterdam University is dedicated to teaching the cultivation of marijuana and its president, Richard Lee, is watching the debate. He sees both sides and he even sees a third side, how it contributes to the legalization of marijuana statewide.

"Well, I'm in favor of more smaller-production facilities but I will take what we can get for now," he says. "I think this is a good first step towards setting us up for November when Prop 19 passes, and we need to have more cultivation."

Prop 19 is the Marijuana Tax and Control Act and it is on the November ballot. Lee also predicts the Oakland regulation plan will pass and be adopted in other cities the same way other cities followed Oakland's lead when it legalized medical marijuana dispensaries in 2004.

If approved by the full council, these new regulations will bring millions and millions of dollars in fees and taxes to a city that is desperately in need of new revenue, as evidenced this week by the layoffs of 80 police officers.

The city council previously voted unanimously to endorse Proposition 19.

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