The Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee passed an ordinance by consensus Tuesday evening that will double the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, if approved by the city council. The final city council meeting of the summer is scheduled for July 19, though it could also schedule another meeting July 26.
But the committee, on the recommendation of the City Administrator’s Office, put off discussion of amending the city’s existing cultivation ordinance, which would regulate large-scale pot farms, until the committee reconvenes in the fall.
Applause went up from the audience of about 30 people after the consensus on increasing the number of dispensaries within city limits from four to eight was reached by councilmembers Patricia Kernighan (District 2), Larry Reid (District 7) and Rebecca Kaplan (at large). Ten people signed up to speak about the cultivation and dispensary ordinances at the meeting, all but one in favor of amending the city’s current ordinances in order to permit more dispensaries.
The city first authorized permits for four medical cannabis dispensaries in 2004. The city council considered new amendments in 2010 that would increase the number of dispensaries, allow the city to permit several large-scale pot farms, and clarify regulations with the existing law. However, then-City Attorney John Russo raised concerns about the legality of the amendments, especially concerning pot farms, and sent a letter to the United States Department of Justice asking for clarification. The matter was then referred to the law firm Meyers Nave, which drafted the ordinance passed by the public safety committee Tuesday.
According to the ordinance, dispensary sales increased by 40 percent between 2008 and 2009, and the four licensed dispensaries generated $28 million in sales in 2010.
While the committee did not discuss the proposed amendments to the separate cultivation ordinance, a preview of what it may become was included in the agenda report prepared by the City Attorney’s Office for Tuesday’s meeting. If the rewritten cultivation ordinance was to pass later this fall, the city would issue eight permits for grow facilities no larger than 25,000 square feet.
The proposed ordinance would not protect dispensaries from federal prosecution. The agenda report also included a warning, in bold letters, that medical marijuana is “prohibited under federal law” and that “medical marijuana collectives proceed at their own risk with no recourse under state or federal law.”
The federal government seems to be taking a hard stance against local governments permitting the growth or sale of marijuana. In late June, US Deputy Attorney General James Cole circulated a memo to U.S. Attorney’s offices that states that people growing, selling or distributing marijuana are in violation of federal law and subject to prosecution, and that state and local laws are not a defense.
On Tuesday night Oakland’s Public Safety Committee also passed a fee amendment that allows for a $5,000 application fee and annual fees of $60,000 for each dispensary permit, and left the door open to the council approving more dispensaries in the fall. An application process for four new dispensaries could start as soon as September if the council approves the ordinance.
“I think it makes a lot of sense for the dispensary permits to start,” Kaplan said. “There are a lot of good reasons to go ahead.”
You can find Oakland North’s complete coverage of local medical marijuana and pot-farm related issues here.