Pubdate: Wed, 04 May 2016
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Column: Legalization Nation
Copyright: 2016 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


Fresh off a ban on all medical cannabis cultivation, it's now one of 
the first local governments to awaken to new state laws and the 
industry's revenue potential.

California's counties are sleeping giants when it comes to medical 
marijuana, but Alameda County is beginning to stir.

One of California's most populous, large, centrally located and 
progressive counties is moving to modernize its pot-shop rules. 
Alameda plans to allow the sale of extracts and marijuana-infused 
products such as edibles, as well as legalize deliveries within and 
from outside the county, in addition to adding one to three new dispensaries.

According to Supervisor Nate Miley, phase two of the county's 
medical-marijuana-modernization efforts would permit indoor and 
greenhouse-cannabis farms in some of the county's vast agricultural 
land, as well as permit, tax, and regulate kitchens that prepare 
edibles, cannabis oil extraction facilities, testing labs, and 
distribution warehouses.

Time is of the essence: Advocates say medical-cannabis patients, 
particularly rural seniors, are underserved in Alameda. There's also 
potentially tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue for the 
county, as well as high-paying jobs on the line as California 
jurisdictions jostle to corner aspects of the newly legitimized 
medical-pot trade.

"Folks who need cannabis could suffer," Miley explained. "As far as 
our safety nets and services, [lack of access] has an effect on the 
needy, the unfortunate, the vulnerable populations who might possibly 
need this medicine."

He also acknowledged that there's a lot of revenue at stake. "We 
could suffer if we're not in the picture. ... If we haven't put 
ourselves in a place to benefit from [medical cannabis], maybe we 
won't get that revenue stream, or as much as had we been at the 
ground floor in helping to shape this as we move forward."

California legalized medical cannabis in 1996 but finally regulated 
it statewide last year. The legal medical-cannabis trade generates 
several billion dollars in estimated revenue statewide. One in 20 
California adults are thought to have used pot for a serious medical 
condition, and 92 percent of those users thought it worked, according 
to a study by the Drug and Alcohol Review journal. New rules under 
the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act put cities and 
counties in the driver's seat on regulations.

Cities like Oakland, Adelanto, and Emeryville have been the first to 
respond to MMRSA's call for local laws to match state rules. Oakland 
is aggressively moving to license and tax its fast-growing 
indoor-cultivation industry, as well as add more licensed 
dispensaries, deliveries, as well as edibles kitchens and extraction labs.

This spring, the Emeryville City Council voted to immediately 
legalize medical-cannabis deliveries and is planning to potentially 
become a cannabis biotech hub by licensing labs that test marijuana.

The desert town of Adelanto is working to corner the Southern 
California market for licensed mega-farms. The city of Santa Rosa 
began receiving applications for cultivation licenses last week.

But California's counties are much slower and less nimble, Miley 
said, likening them to aircraft carriers. "It's takes a long time to turn them.

Indeed, Alameda County has barely evolved on cannabis since Miley was 
elected. He did shepherd legislation that created the county's three 
dispensary permits. Just two pot shops are open in all of 
unincorporated Alameda County. Both are ruled over by the Sheriff's 
Department, and are not allowed to sell edibles, or extracts - both 
of which are very popular with marijuana patients.

"It took a lot to get that through," said Miley, "and one of the ways 
was to give the Sheriff's Department control over it.

"I'm hoping there's more acceptance and tolerance of dispensaries now 
than there was in the early 2000s."

The passage of MMRSA is causing counties statewide into a reckoning 
with the reality of medical marijuana - after 20 years of state and 
local politicians sticking their head in the sand, he said. "We've 
been waiting for the state to come forward for forever. The rules of 
the game are in place now."

Updating Alameda County's laws won't be easy, though. Conservatives 
in law enforcement think cannabis is a gateway drug, and its medical 
use is a ruse, Miley said. Sheriff's have tolerated the two 
dispensaries "begrudgingly," he said.

Miley - who leads county efforts to battle the prescription drug 
overdose epidemic, which kills 50 Americans per day - says that "just 
because something is abused doesn't mean you don't make it 
legitimately available to people who need it."

Some in the county bureaucracy would also prefer the Alameda wait for 
more leadership in Sacramento, but Miley insists that is not the 
right move. "We have the opportunity to be at the vanguard."

The county's plans are currently under review and could go before the 
full Board of Supervisors in late summer or fall. Phase two plans 
could be up for Board approval by spring 2017.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom