Pubdate: Thu, 23 Dec 2010
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Matthai Kuruvila
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


The Oakland City Council abruptly halted plans to allow some of the 
world's largest legal marijuana farms to open in the city after 
prosecutors warned city officials that they could be vulnerable to prosecution.

The council on Tuesday suspended the city's cultivation ordinance, 
which council members adopted in July to raise new city revenue and 
rein in the sometimes dangerous black-market farms that are now the norm.

The decision came two weeks after Alameda County District Attorney 
Nancy O'Malley warned that the ordinance was problematic because it 
conflicted with state law.

"It remains an open question," O'Malley wrote, whether city officials 
and staff "who aid and abet or conspire to violate state or federal 
laws in furtherance of a city ordinance are exempt from criminal liability."

The ordinance's suspension does not kill plans for licensed marijuana 
farms. The council asked city staff to return Feb. 1 with amendments 
that would make the ordinance comply with state law.

A key problem is that the ordinance appears to have been contingent 
on the passage of Proposition 19, a state ballot measure rejected by 
voters in November that would have legalized adult recreational use 
of marijuana.

City officials previously said the ordinance would have been 
applicable regardless of the passage of Prop. 19, but that now 
appears not to be true.

"The cultivation ordinance the city was doing had been based on Prop. 
19 passing," said Council President Jane Brunner. "Now there has to 
be a regrouping."

Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who drafted the ordinance and had been 
its key backer, was not available for interviews Wednesday, said 
Jason Overman, her spokesman.

The ordinance did not limit the size of farms, and one potential 
applicant approached the city with a proposal for a 
100,000-square-foot facility - roughly the size of two football fields.

It is likely that the ordinance will be revised to limit the size of 
farms, said Brunner and cannabis activist Richard Lee, president of 
Oaksterdam University.

Oakland's ordinance would have permitted four large farms whose total 
crop would have supplied a substantial portion of the Bay Area 
medicinal marijuana needs.

The farms each would have had to pay a $211,000 permit fee and would 
have been required to meet expensive rules, such as obtaining $3 
million worth of insurance. However, the idea of for-profit cannabis 
cultivation conflicts with state law, according to county prosecutor 
O'Malley and Oakland City Attorney John Russo.

Russo said the city's best protection was to abide by the guidelines 
established by Proposition 215, which state voters passed in 1996.

"There's no authority in 215 to grow pot for profit," Russo said Wednesday.

Stephen DeAngelo, the owner of the Harborside Health Center 
dispensary, had said in July that Oakland's proposed ordinance was 
probably illegal because it severed the relationship between patients 
and their medicine. Brunner and Russo said Wednesday that analysis was correct.

"What the state law creates is a rubric in which only patients and 
their caregivers can legally grow pot," said Russo, an outspoken 
advocate for medicinal marijuana and Prop. 19.

If Prop. 19 had passed, marijuana growing would continue to expand in 
the black market unless cities, like Oakland, provided cultivation 
permits. In Oakland and in many other cities, black-market growing 
results in shoddy electrical work and burglaries and robberies. 
Moving marijuana out of neighborhoods and into regulated venues has 
been portrayed by advocates as a public safety issue.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom