Pubdate: Wed, 10 Feb 2016
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Column: Legalization Nation
Copyright: 2016 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


City staffers are seeking to lift Oakland's cap on dispensaries and 
to license vapor lounges, commercial gardens, hash-makers, kitchens, and labs.

Oakland stands poised to dominate California's new era of regulated 
medical cannabis. The Oakland City Council could green-light up to 
eight new medical cannabis dispensaries per year, as well approve 
dozens of related licenses for cultivation, testing, edibles, and pot 
extracts at its meeting on Tuesday, February 16.

Under the sweeping plan pushed by staffers in Mayor Libby Schaaf's 
administration, Oakland would also issue new licenses for 
delivery-only dispensaries, transportation services, lounges, and 
analytical labs. The plan also likely will produce millions of 
dollars in new tax revenue for the city; would increase safety by 
reducing the need for a black market for medical pot; would add more 
local jobs; and would produce safer medical cannabis supplies on a 
smaller carbon footprint, according to city staffers. The plan is 
scheduled to go before the council's Public Safety Committee on 
Tuesday night, February 9.

Many in the industry cheered the plan on Monday. "It's long overdue," 
said Dale Sky Jones, chancellor of Oaksterdam University in the 
city's Uptown district. "But I trust Oakland to continue to be the leader."

"Oakland's always been at the forefront of the legal cannabis 
movement," said BLUM dispensary Executive Director Salwa Ibrahim. 
"It's only appropriate the city continue to expand its legislation in 
ways that allow our industry room to thrive, innovate, and compete 
with the rest of the country."

Currently, Oakland is falling behind other cities, city staffers 
report, and needs to align its laws with the new state regulations. 
Oakland trails San Francisco and Sacramento in dispensaries per 
capita. Oakland's eight licensed dispensaries paid more than $4 
million in taxes in 2015, and revenues should grow 28 percent in 
2016, staffers estimate.

Californians legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but the legislature 
did not enact state regulations until 2015. Oakland had been blazing 
its own trail, first in 1998 with the opening of the Oakland Cannabis 
Buyer's Cooperative, and again in 2004 with four licensed 
dispensaries, plus four more in 2011.

Oakland drew federal threats of prosecution for licensing medical 
cultivation in 2010, but current policies from the Obama 
administration steer prosecutors away from targeting state-regulated 
pot commerce. California lawmakers regulated medical pot from seed to 
sale in October with the passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation 
and Safety Act (MMRSA).

MMRSA bestows unprecedented legitimacy on state-licensed 
canna-businesses, and is super-charging the billion-dollar industry's 
growth this year. While many cities reacted to MMRSA with bans, 
others are seeing green and cashing in.

MMRSA calls for about ten new license types covering most aspects of 
the pot trade, and the state's dual licensing structure lets 
localities choose how much activity they want. Oakland's Cannabis 
Regulatory Commission advised the city to daylight the already-robust 
underground pot economy in Oakland, and city staffers are 
recommending that the council do just that.

"Oakland has fallen behind other jurisdictions," states a report 
written by Greg Minor, assistant to City Administrator Sabrina 
Landreth. "Unregulated non-dispensary activities have resulted in 
electrical fires (stemming from flawed indoor cannabis cultivation), 
violent crime (such as robberies, burglaries, and even homicides), 
and the use of pesticides and fertilizers that run counter to the 
crop's medical purpose.

"By aligning with state law," Minor's report continued, "the city 
will .. encourage unregulated medical cannabis operators in Oakland 
to come into the light."

Staffers recommend lifting the city's four-year-old cap on 
dispensaries and replacing it with zoning-driven limits - like San 
Francisco does. Dispensaries would also be able to cluster "in 
certain areas and not in others, depending on the character of the 
area," according to Minor's report.

A 600-foot buffer would continue to prevent licensees from setting up 
shop near schools and youth centers. A new type of delivery-only 
dispensary permit is also needed to control the dozen-plus operators 
that already exist, staffers report.

"[Deliveries] have operated in and out of Oakland for several years, 
largely in a clandestine fashion," Minor's report states. "Further, 
that number could rise as smart phone app delivery services continue 
to develop and satisfy the consumer demand for convenience. Delivery 
services also serve an important function for elderly and disabled 
individuals who cannot easily travel to brick-and-mortar facilities."

C.R.A.F.T. delivery collective operator Alan Sorrentino applauded the 
recommendation, saying it showed that "the city's commitment to 
providing patients with increased access to quality tested medicine."

The city may issue about sixty permits for commercial gardens, 
kitchens, transportation services, and other categories this year. 
Staffers advise that non-dispensary permit proceedings should not be 
open to the public - in order to shield garden locations from 
would-be burglars.

Most commercial pot activity would have to occur in industrial-zoned 
areas of town near the waterfront. Commercial home-growing in 
residential areas would not be allowed. However, small kitchens and 
collective gardens might be exempt, provided that small scale edibles 
producers meet "cottage food operations" requirements under 
California's Homemade Food Act.

Also exempt from permitting would be small-scale collective or 
personal cultivation of weed gardens up to 96 square-feet in size 
with up to 32 square-feet of canopy.

Lastly, Oakland may get vape lounges. Patients want it, other cities 
allow it, and they're not bothersome. Lounges cut down on the number 
of people smoking in cars and provide a place to medicate for the 
many low-income patients barred from doing so in their apartments or 
other dwellings.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom