Tuesday, August 10, 2010

NIMBYs to Determine Cannabis Farmers' Fate This Fall

By David Downs
Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 10:34 AM

Oakland City Hall officials have begun a six month-long administrative process that will lead to the awarding of four permits to cultivate large-scale amounts of medical cannabis in Oakland. Winning such permits will involve enduring large amounts of red tape, culminating in public meetings where pot farmers' potential neighbors could ultimately decide their fate.

Arturo Sanchez, assistant to the city administrator, says he's drafting a rough version of the city's "request for permit applications" for large-scale cultivation this month. The draft RFPA will go before the full city council for review when they return from their summer break. After some tweaking, the city will settle on a final RFPA by September that lays out what they are looking for in cultivators, then hold a public meeting where all interested cultivators can get the official document. Some 226 parties have expressed interest in applying for a permit, but Sanchez expects the $5,000 permit application fee as well as the later $211,000 permit fee to winnow that amount down considerably.

Furthermore, the exact RFPA specifications for cultivators will automatically disqualify a number of applicants. In the end, he expects to have forty to fifty strong candidates. The city will use a points system to ensure potential cultivators meet some rather stringent standards for cultivation like lighting, ventilation, plumbing, security, and building maintenance. A bonus points system will also reward council priorities like local ownership, union hiring, and stringent environmental goals for the farms. When the deadline to turn in permit applications passes, city staff will review all qualified applications with specific names of applicants redacted to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

The final dozen or so strongest candidates will end up in a noticed public hearing, where they will have to make their case to the city council and face any neighbors who might oppose their plans. Ultimately, the strongest applicants' potential neighbors may determine their destiny.

Many experts have voiced concerns that large-scale farms could violate state law requiring a strong link between growers of medical cannabis and the cooperatives and collectives who dispense it.

Sanchez said the onus will be on applicants to show how they will be in compliance with all state laws, which include forming as non-profit or mutual benefit corporation, showing that link to dispensaries (maybe by becoming a member of several) and preventing diversion of crops to illicit markets. Contrary to popular conception, the city might also require growers to lay out a tiered process for cultivation wherein they start at a smaller scale and reapply for a larger farm.

Abiding by state law, and limiting the size of farms will hopefully keep federal law enforcement at bay, Sanchez says. The Drug Enforcement Administration has requested the city's ordinance and has said it is interested in Oakland's plans.

Oakland landowner Jeff Wilcox, a key figure in the cultivation ordinance saga, says he worries about the competition for permits after spending tens of thousands of dollars to make such permits a reality. He's also concerned about placating DEA concerns.

"The key thing now is not to fuck this up," he said.

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