Oakland's Grow House Hazards 

The city has been blocked from permitting large pot farms, but small, illegal grows are sparking fires and posing threats to public health and safety.

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Brooks declined to comment on the specifics of her proposal and said that she submitted it merely as a placeholder for further discussion. Jason Overman, spokesman for Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who co-authored last year's ordinance, said, "Kaplan is open to further discussing size and scope. ... We're not committed to a particular figure. The square-footage element and the scalability of farms with dispensaries will be something that I expect Meyers Nave will likely comment on when they produce general recommendations later this month. It's fair to say the council is open to amending that number."

The issue may also be dealt with more swiftly at the state level, Overman noted. Two bills to regulate pot production were introduced last month in Sacramento by Senators Lou Correa and Ron Calderon of Southern California.

But Robert Raich, a local cannabis lawyer who helped take a medical cannabis case to the US Supreme Court, believes Oakland should regulate its existing small- and medium-size growers before turning to large ones. "Focusing all its attention on those huge farms was a mistake," he said. The city, he added, should pursue a program like Mendocino, with third-party inspections on any farm bigger than 150 square feet. "Gardeners in Oakland want to comply with reasonable rules and are happy to pay taxes, they just don't have a way to legitimize themselves."

But does the city have the money to launch such a program, and force the small hazardous grow houses out of business? Mayor Jean Quan and the council are currently grappling with a projected $46 million deficit next year. In addition, the state Legislature may approve Governor Jerry Brown's plan to kill redevelopment agencies soon, a move that would further devastate Oakland's finances.

And without some viable plan, the bad actors in Oakland's underground pot-growing scene continue to spark fires throughout the city. John said some of the grows he's seen are dungeons. "You got mold on all the walls, pest infestations, buds with rot inside them, rotting leaves and electrical wires through puddles of water," he said. "That sort of thing is obviously some amateur-hour shit that I'd rather see taken away. A lot of pot on the shelf is the farthest thing from medical that you can possibly imagine.

"I think the discussion is going to be ongoing and volatile, and when the dust settles, I hope people come up with a rational answer to this whole mess," he continued. "And I hope they do it in the interest of the public good."

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