The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to license up to four large marijuana farms in industrial areas to supply the city’s four medical cannabis dispensaries, a groundbreaking decision that could result in the mass commercialization of a formerly illicit crop.
The 5-2 vote came after two hours of heated debate between growers who argued the proposal could destroy their livelihoods, and businessmen who said it could turn Oakland into the Silicon Valley of marijuana, reports John Hoeffel at the Los Angeles Times
The audience booed, hissed, and talked back, causing City Council President Jane Brunner to repeatedly scold the crowd.
Some smaller farmers expressed worries that the plan could make it harder on small businesses and also that the quality of medical marijuana could suffer. The small-scale growers said the new cultivation ordinance will put them out of business in favor of big-box, big-money growers with deep pockets and political connections, reports Cecily Burt at the Oakland Tribune
Advocates expressed concern that the genetic richness of marijuana, currently expressed through literally hundreds of strains, could be lost and homogenized due to factory farming methods.
“Mega-growers will go for big, fast, cheap, so maybe it’s not the best strain for people and their particular illness,” said Terryn Buxton, a 35-year-old patient and farmer who grows four to five pounds of marijuana every couple of months. “There is a need for a wide variety of medicine out there.”
Responding to their concerns that smaller growers were being cut out of the picture, the council promised it would later develop a plan that could include smaller and medium-sized farmers.
The plan would authorize four enormous pot factories, but makes no provision for the hundreds of growers who now supply Oakland’s dispensaries, which sold $28 million worth of marijuana last year.
|Photo: CA NORML
|Dale Gieringer, California NORML: “This is a monumental step forward”
”This is a monumental step forward,” said Oakland resident Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. “It really means moving into the era of industrial-scale operations and Oakland means to do it big.”
Steve DeAngelo, who runs the city’s largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center, led a campaign to urge the council to accommodate smaller growers in the ordinance. Harborside currently buys marijuana from more than 400 groewrs.
“These growers are not anonymous miscreants burning down houses and bringing crime to neighborhoods,” DeAngelo said. “They are real people, decent people with families to support.”
Harborside will apply for one of the permits, and the applications would include individual and small collective cultivators, according to James Anthony, attorney for HHC.
Anthony said he was hopeful that the council would take action by including small cultivators in the fall.
Jeff Wilcox, a businessman who has presented the most detailed plan for a marijuana factory, warned city council members that if they did not act quickly, Oakland would lost momentum to other cities such as Berkeley, which plans to ask voters to approve six large-scale commercial marijuana grow operations.
Wilcox, a retired construction company owner, wants to convert a group of aging industrial warehouses he owns into what could become the world’s largest pot factory, growing about 58 pounds of marijuana a day.
Each applicant must pay a $5,000 fee just to cover administrative costs for background checks and to review business plans and site plans. But that’s chump change compared to the actual cost of a permit.
The annual permit fee for each of the four large grow operations will be $211,000, effectively shutting smaller growers out of the process. Many fear that after years of risking federal prosecution, they will be shut out just as Oakland legitimizes cannabis cultivation.
“(Passing this resolution) will actually decrease public safety,” said Dan Grace, a small grower with five employees. “It will create an environment where small growers will have to go back underground, where they will not be able to get electrical permits. We acteually do our best to be aboveboard and follow safety regulations.”
The plan could potentially add millions of dollars to Oakland’s budget by bringing what has been a secretive and lucrative cash business out into the open. The city was the first in California to adopt a pot tax, at 1.8 percent. It is now considering asking voters to approve a substantial increase, to 8, 10, or 12 percent.
The new cultivation operations will also pay the tax.
The city will not enforce the new ordinance until cultivation permits are issued in January.
The ordinance will get a second reading on Tuesday.