by David Downs
The Oakland City Council is planning on cutting public comment out of its historic plan to permit the country's first licensed medical cannabis farms. During its Tuesday meeting, councilmembers said they prefer that public comment on potential permitees occur only after the council had selected who would get the city's coveted permits. Typically, neighbors and other citizens speak before local government issues permits for all types of development.
A who's who of politically connected Oakland insiders, many of whom have made contributions to city councilmembers' warchests, is expected to apply for the four coveted permits. Permits are scheduled to be issued by the council by January.
The council has created a mound of red tape around its "Request for Permit Application" process, and attempted to sort through it Tuesday, ultimately sending it back to the Public Safety Committee for further tweaking.
But the council apparently doesn't want to tweak the unusual idea that the public would only be able to comment on potential permitees after the council had chosen them. Councilmember Jean Quan said the city was worried about organized neighborhood opposition to pot farmers.
"We thought that would be a mess because you could have people sabotaging each other by organizing each other's communities," Quan said at the hearing.
Staff member Arturo Sanchez noted that public comment usually happens before a permitee is chosen, as is the case with massage parlors, bingo halls, and what were once cabarets.
Councilmember Desley Brooks added she was also interested in going after existing Oakland growers seeking a legal permit; either through a fee or hindering their chances of getting a permit. Brooks said existing growers have been breaking the law.
Brooks recently graduated from UniCann, a cannabis growing school run by WeGrow. WeGrow intends to apply for a growing permit, and would theoretically benefit by not having to compete for a permit with existing, local growers.
The council has speculated it will cost $1-2 million to win a permit and build a facility.