Oakland City Atty. Tells Council: Hire Your Own Pot Farm Lawyer


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Oakland City Attorney John Russo doesn’t want to play Pot Farm with the City Council anymore.

Oakland City Attorney John Russo doesn’t want to play Pot Farm with the City Council anymore.

Russo has delivered another blow to the city’s plans to license and tax large-scale marijuana farms — he’s withdrawn his legal advice and told the City Council to hire their own attorney.

In the letter Russo advises the council to retain outside counsel for the duration of the deliberations on the medical cannabis cultivation issue, reports Cecily Burt of The Oakland Tribune. He said that once an attorney has been secured, his office will turn over the files it has amassed so far.

Russo said in the letter that he based his decision on action taken by the City Council on Tuesday to redraft its proposed medical cannabis cultivation ordinance to address concerns raised by federal and local law enforcement.
Oakland’s original ordinance for an industrial marijuana farm placed no limits on the size of the cultivation facilities, which would operate as stand-alone businesses separate from dispensaries. The council had hope to start licensing the farms as early as January, but instead suspended action on the licenses in December so the ordinance could be revised to address concerns that it might not comply with California’s medical marijuana law.
Councilmember Desley Brooks proposed an amendment at the Tuesday council meeting that would limit the size of the facilities and would require that each one operate an on-site dispensary to ensure a direct, accountable link between the product and the patient.
Brooks’ new draft of the ordinance, as well as an alternative proposal that was supposed to be drafted by Russo’s office this week, were scheduled for discussion at next Tuesday’s Public Safety meeting. But Russo’s letter has thrown a monkey wrench into the schedule.
Not only is there no draft of the ordinance from Russo’s office, no one from the City Attorney’s office can advise the committee on the legality of its action. Russo’s office declined to comment on the letter Friday.
Russo’s letter, dated Thursday and addressed to the mayor and each council member, cited Rule 3-700 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which defines the rules under which an attorney may terminate a client.
Russo did not specify which section of Rule 3-700 he was using, but section C (1) states that an attorney may withdraw legal representation if “the client seeks to pursue an illegal course of conduct.”
Both U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley warned that Oakland’s cultivation ordinance as originally drafted would be illegal could result in federal and state prosecution.
Brooks said late Friday that she agrees the initial ordinance is illegal and that’s why she rewrote it to make sure there is a closed loop system between growers and patients.
Brooks said she did not know whether the City Council would be able to hire a new attorney by next week’s meeting, and she thought it “odd” that Russo would issue his letter Thursday, when his staff was working on a draft of the ordinance as recently as Tuesday.