Oakland considers limiting and licensing marijuana growers

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Prop. 19 would legalize and tax marijuana in California, decriminalizing even recreational use for the first time.
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The medical marijuana community – everyone from small growers to Harborside Health Center, the biggest dispensary in Oakland – are reacting strongly against an ordinance proposed by Oakland City Council members Rebecca Kaplan and Larry Reid to limit and license marijuana cultivation, a proposal that will be heard tonight (7/13) at 6 p.m. by the council's Public Safety Committee.

They say the measure is an affront to medical marijuana patients and the small growing operations that have been at the forefront of the long struggle to legalize pot for medical uses. While the measure stems from concern about growing weed in residential areas – it would allow only a few large growing operations exclusively in industrial areas – critics characterize it as an attack on patients that violates Prop. 215, the 1996 measure that legalized medical marijuana and explicitly allows patients to grow their own medicine.

“It’s a disturbing turn of events for the usually forward thinking Oakland City Council,” medical marijuana consultant Gaynell Rogers, who works with Harborside, the city's premier dispensary, wrote in a press release. It went on to quote Harborisde executive director Steve DeAngelo as saying, “This ordinance would deprive hundreds of patient-farmers of their livelihood. It seems a very unfair way to repay them for the years during which they courageously stood up to the federal government, and faithfully supplied patients with the medicine they could not get anywhere else...I’d rather see Harborside’s own opportunity to produce on a centralized efficient-scale basis reduced, than to see the small patient-farmers who are the backbone of this movement driven to extinction.”

Kaplan did not immediately return a Guardian call seeking comment, and neither did Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who is one of the few active law enforcement officers and elected officials to come out in support of Prop. 19, the fall ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for even recreational use by adults.

In addition to regulating growers for the first time, the proposed legislation would also increase the number of licensed dispensaries from four to six. San Francisco, a trailblazer in regulating medical marijuana, currently has more than 22 licensed dispensaries and no licensing program for growers, although Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has said there is a need to better protect growers from prosecution and even to explore having the city grow medical marijuana.

While medical marijuana advocates welcome regulations as a necessary step toward legitimizing the industry, they generally oppose anything limits a patient's rights to grow their own weed. "We support local regulation but not when it's at the expense of patients," Mike Meno, a spokesperson for the DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, told the Guardian.

The hearing will be held in council chambers, with this item last on the agenda for a meeting that begins at 6 p.m.

Update: Kaplan has been in a closed session on Oakland Police Department issues all day, but her staffers just got back to me and clarified that the measure allows small grows of up to 96 square feet or 72 plants (Oakland's standard for the needs of three patients) to continue unlicensed, although they say the intention is to eventually set standards and a legal framework for all medical marijuana growers.

Policy analyst Ada Chan said Kaplan is concerned about commercial grows in residential areas and its related crime and fire risks and "she feels we need to move it out of residential areas." She said Harborside and other medical marijuana players were consulted in drafting the legislation, which she said would likely be subject to more staff work before being approved: "This is just the first step."

But Harborside attorney James Anthony told us that he had not seen language or specifics on the legislation until it was publicly released last week, he's still concerned that small growing operations will be hurt by the measure because of ambiguity in the legislation, and he fears the council intends to move quickly on an unworkable policy: "This thing is on track to go to the full City Council next week and pass."

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