Pubdate: Thu, 03 Feb 2011
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Matthai Kuruvila
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


The U.S. attorney's office has warned Oakland officials that the 
city's marijuana farm ordinance breaks federal law and would put 
cannabis cultivators in criminal and civil jeopardy.

The ordinance was passed in July by the City Council but has since 
been put aside after local law enforcement leaders warned that it 
could result in criminal prosecution of city officials.

In a Feb. 1 letter to Oakland, Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for 
the Northern District of California, wrote: "Individuals who elect to 
operate 'industrial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing 
facilities' will be doing so in violation of federal law."

Haag's letter marks the first time federal authorities have sent a 
written warning on Oakland's ordinance and comes as the council is in 
the midst of considering a new proposal to license pot farms. Haag, 
however, did not weigh in on the latest proposal, and Department of 
Justice officials refused to comment on it.

Thus, some council members said they intend to continue moving 
forward with the plan by Councilwoman Desley Brooks that would 
license five new dispensaries, which would each have farms of up to 
50,000 square feet.

Haag's letter calls marijuana a controlled substance and says that 
federal authorities do not pursue "seriously ill" people who use 
medicinal marijuana approved by state law. Landlords, property 
owners, financiers and others, however, could face prosecution and 
the loss of property for growing marijuana under Oakland's law, Haag wrote.

Brooks said her proposal is an effort to allow Oakland to license pot 
farms without violating state law.

"I'm not trying to facilitate the growth of wholesale marijuana," 
Brooks said. "I'm strictly interested in producing cannabis for sick 
people, as they indicated they would be OK with in the letter."

While the previous plan had no size limit for four farms, Brooks' 
proposal caps the size of each of five prospective farms. But even at 
50,000 square feet, each farm would provide more than the medicinal 
needs of all Oakland dispensaries combined in 2009.

Perhaps more significantly, Brooks' proposal also ties proposed farms 
to a specific dispensary and its patients. The previous plan allowed 
pot farmers to act as free agents, selling to whichever dispensary they chose.

The distinction is important because only medical marijuana patients 
and their "primary caregivers" are allowed to grow pot under 
California law, according to a December opinion to the City Council 
by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley.

A "primary caregiver" is someone who "has consistently assumed 
responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that person," 
O'Malley wrote.

Brooks defines dispensaries as "primary caregivers" under her 
proposal, though O'Malley has said that is not always the case.

While state voters authorized the use of medical marijuana in 1996, 
little has been done to regulate its cultivation. The result is a 
hodgepodge of basement plots, vacant storefront mini-farms and 
backwoods plantations. Critics, including the City Council, say 
keeping the industry in the black market invites ad hoc electrical 
systems, burglaries and home invasions.

Oakland's plans include inspections of growing sites for fire and 
safety codes, among a slew of other requirements.

"The whole point of the regulatory system is to keep this out of the 
hands of criminal cartels and protect public safety," said 
Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, author of the July ordinance that is the 
subject of Haag's letter.

Haag's letter was written in response to a Jan. 14 letter from City 
Attorney John Russo asking for guidance.

Other cities, counties and states have been licensing pot farms, 
ranging from Long Beach to the state of Colorado. Kaplan said she had 
not heard of the U.S. attorney contacting those jurisdictions, so she 
is interested in learning what they're doing correctly.

Brooks said the issue is ultimately about the heath of the sick and 
the safety of the rest of the community.

"They acknowledge there are sick people who need medicine, said 
Brooks. "We're just trying to make sure they get their medicine. ... 
They know it has to come from someplace. I'd rather us regulate that place."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom