Weeds by The Other Dan
On Nov. 2, voters will decide whether to levy taxes on the tens of million of dollars worth of medical marijuana sold in town. It's part of a plan our City Council approved in July, to license four large scale cannibis cultivation factories.
From the block to the blogs, everyone's talking about the "Walmarting" of Weed in Oakland. And with all this coverage of future plans, it might be easy to overlook the fact that there are already marijuana grow facilities within the city.
The City Council has approved (and the Feds may shut down) large scale facilities, but there are already more than 400 "patient-growers" supplying at least one Oakland dispensary. In addition, according to Derek Peterson, co-founder of Gropech*, there are numerous medium scale grow facilities that are in Oakland already, operating under conflicting laws, ordinances and judge's rulings.
*(Editor's Note: Gropech does not currently grow marijuana, but the company is applying for one of the four factory permits. The nonprofit does provide information, supplies and services for legal growers.)
So what does this mean for Oakland residents? There could be marijuana growing on your block, even in the yard next to yours. And if there is, there would be no way for you to know it.
At this point, the clearest guidelines come from the state Attorney General's office. They limit who can grow marijuana (patients or providers only) and how much can be grown. But because growers can be patients/users of medicinal marijuana, there is no requirement that they notify neighbors, apply for permits or follow any universal safety standards. Even when patients and primary caregivers form collectives and cooperatives to grow together, the state guidelines focus on their financial and distribution responsibilities, not on notifying the community.
According to James Silva, a medical marijuana lawyer, case law is still unfolding.
"You have to divorce yourself from logic because the laws have been crafted out of controversy," he said.
Silva cites the People vs. Trippit (1998) and the People vs. Kelly (2010) as key cases. While the state guidelines create a safe harbor for growers, court decisions like these have upheld the rights of patients and providers to grow "an amount that is reasonably related to their medical needs." Even if growers have amounts somewhat over the legal limits, or their doctor's recommendation, it doesn't necessarily constitute a felony possession.
The city of Oakland's guidelines are a little more specific - they state that up to three people can form a collective and grow 72 plants each, for a total of 216 plants. Nevertheless, when it comes to local grow houses, rumors persist that police and city officials are sometimes looking the other way.
Until Prop. 19 passes (or fails) in the upcoming election, the city is looking forward to a potential fiscal payoff. Once the larger grow facilities are set up, Oakland stands to gain significant revenue. In order to achieve that revenue, supply must meet demand for the next year. Oakland's guidelines don't currently meet supply needs - so some growing is happening around the edges of what's permitted.
Most pot dispensaries and clinics are publicly identifiable. After all, you can't attract customers if they don't know what you are selling. Also, dispensaries often reduce crime for their neighbors by increasing foot traffic, installing cameras and hiring security professionals to keep customers and employees safe.
However, to keep theft down, where marijuana is grown is a closely guarded secret. While some plants are brought in from other areas, it's risky to move too many plants or extracts at a time. Bringing products from other states or countries is illegal under federal law. So selling locally grown greens makes sense - both economically and legally. And so does working with small to medium sized-suppliers.
One issue that concerns many is that "small" pot growers aren't necessarily subject to the same regulations as other small businesses. There have been reports of faulty electrical systems (and a few fires) from growers who use large amounts of electricity in their operations. In December 2009, an abandoned cookie factory in Chinatown was gutted by fire. When police and firefighters arrived, they discovered more than 1,000 marijuana plants - and an extension cord hooked up to an outside power line.
State of CA 2008 Medical Marijuana Guidelines
Gropech's Peterson points out other issues that can be risky in terms of small and/or inexperienced growers. Marijuana that's grown improperly can contain chemicals and carcinogens that put cancer and HIV patients at risk. It can even develop Aflotoxin - also known as Black Mold. Not only does this mold put consumers in danger, it can spread throughout a house or building - contaminating floorboards, drywall and even the foundation.
There also are potential environmental hazards.
"A lot of growers use chemical fertilizers because you get a better weight," Peterson said. "With no proper disposal, recycling or filtration systems, this has become a big concern in Humbolt county. Quite a bit of damage has been done to ground water and the ecosystem."
So, is there a way to tell if anyone is growing on your block - or down the street? Not really ... and that is cause for concern.
See Oakland Local's coverage of the marijuana business here.