Opinion: Permitting Pot Farms in Oakland Requires Transparency



The Oakland City Council's impending decision to possibly permit and tax four large-scale medical cannabis farms has everyone from local dispensaries to remote profiteers wondering, “Who will get a growing permit, worth potentially millions of dollars per year?” If the council approves growing legislation this summer, the city is expected to issue a "request for proposals" and potential growers would then compete in an effort to "win" a coveted permit. Theoretically, permits would go to those growers deemed most capable and responsible of handling the historic charge, but it's never that simple.

Existing dispensaries like Harborside Health Center think local, permitted dispensaries should be doing the growing, since they are already doing the permitted selling. But new hydroponics concern iGrow, and landowner Jeff Wilcox and his AgraMed company — neither of whom dispense medical cannabis — are also interested in permits and have relationships with city councilmembers. Insiders say entrepreneurs from across the state are also contacting the city to try and get in on the process, and there's widespread suspicion that somehow "the fix is in" in Oakland.

Potentially $8 million per year in city taxes are motivating Oakland officials to permit some growing scheme, and Legalization Nation wants to see Oakland get the tax dollars it deserves, but above all the process needs to be transparent.

We hope the regulation regime will be based on the best available data, though little data currently exists. Wilcox commissioned a private study of the economics of growing, which took all watchers pretty much by surprise. Now there's a backroom scramble to either buttress or refute Wilcox's data with independent research from UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. The famous thinktank, The Rand Corporation, is also doing its own independent research on growing economics. The council's draft ordinance should be buttressed by solid, publicly available raw data on the inputs and outputs of such a regime.

All ordinance discussions also need to be scheduled, advertised, and open to public comment. Ditto for the RFP process, should one occur.

Legalization Nation thinks it reasonable to expect growing revenues — public and private — to support the community that enabled it, which means permitting local growers to do local growing with local, union labor. As far as who should do it, we'd like to see those most capable, responsible, and proven.

No doubt, Cynical Politics 101 states that access to valuable permits is a bargaining chip which savvy legislators can trade for something that they need. No doubt, landowners and businessmen are interested in such a trade. It's paramount that the entire process be transparent, lest the assumptions of the cynical prove correct in Oakland yet again.