By: Debby Goldsberry Photos: Ashleigh Castro
In 2010, the cities of Oakland and Berkeley both started regulating large-scale medical cannabis cultivation, but federal threats and foot-dragging bureaucrats quickly stopped those efforts. More than five years later, both are moving forward again thanks to their adoption of the statewide Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA).
MMRSA was created by the passage of three bills, AB 266, AB 243, and SB 643. Together, they established the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation and assigned responsibility for regulation to the Department of Food and Agriculture. With this statewide oversight in place, California now qualifies for the enforcement exemptions established by the federal government in the Cole Memo from August 29, 2013, which protects states with legal medical marijuana.
Oakland was the first city in California to attempt to regulate large-scale medical marijuana cultivation. In 2010, the City Council passed a law allowing four 100,000-square-foot cultivation and manufacturing facilities. The feds pushed back hard, with then-U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag threatening to arrest everyone involved in the cultivation plans, including members of the Oakland City Council. With the city declining to issue permits, the situation lay dormant for years; until the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission and the City Administrator’s Office of Special Permits started pushing to get the law updated and implemented.
“The effort started about two years ago,” said Oakland cannabis commissioner, Jake Sassaman. “Our chair, Matt Hummel, introduced a three tiered growing system to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission. One permit for small cottage grows, another for large-scale production, and a third tier for larger warehouse-sized cultivation.”
This initial idea changed over time to meet the guidelines established by MMRSA, including the 30,000-square-foot maximum for allowed space. The proposed Oakland regulations create a “Green Zone” in the city, where large scale cultivation and manufacturing are allowed if certain conditions are met. These include having proof of ownership or landlord approval for the space, being located 1000 feet from schools, hiring a designated number of Oakland residents and paying the city five percent of gross income for large-scale cannabis cultivation.
After two years, the proposed law still has to pass through the Public Safety Commission, where it has a second reading on April 26, 2016, and then through the City Council a few months after. If successful at both, the city administrator’s office will prioritize implementing the law, getting permits to all who qualify.
Sassaman regularly asked himself why the process had taken so long. “The Cannabis Regulatory Commission is an advisory body to the City Council,” he shared, “As such, we only meet once a month and want to get every piece of legislation right before submitting it to the City Council. It’s only been eight to nine months that they have taken our advice seriously and I think the reason for that is clear. The city is in debt and it has taken them quite a while to view Cannabis for the godsend that it is, as far as tax revenue.”
In 2010, Berkeley voters passed the initiative known as Measure T, allowing six cultivation facilities to locate in the “M” zone, with 30,000-square-feet of space each. The problem is that this part of Berkeley is small—approximately 12 x 10 square blocks—and the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission has spent years trying to negotiate with the planning department and City Council to expand the area.
The Berkeley proposal was moving even slower than Oakland’s, while the cultivation subcommittee met 31 times between 2011 and 2014, and twice in April 2016 alone. Stakeholder’s had been left wondering if this process would ever become concrete, but success looks more likely now that MMRSA has passed.
Other Bay Area cities already have laws regulating cultivation. San Francisco has approximately a dozen licensed cultivation facilities, all run by licensed dispensaries in their Green Zone. Richmond allows each of their dispensaries to apply for a second permit for cultivation and manufacturing, though not all have, and San Leandro just licensed a large cultivation and dispensary facility focused on clone production. Now, it’s time for Oakland and Berkeley to act, and to license cannabis cultivation once and for all.
Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission
1st Thursday of Each Month, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
City Hall, Redwood Conference Room
2180 Milvia Street, Sixth Floor
Please check their community calendar to verify.
Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission
3rd Thursday of Each Month, 6:30 PM
City Council Chambers, 3rd Floor
1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA 94612
Check website for more information.