East Bay News

Pot growers ask if City Hall will protect them

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Oakland took a step closer to becoming the first city in the nation to cultivate wholesale medical marijuana. But the potential pot farmers who showed up at City Hall Monday night wanted some assurances that their investments will be protected from federal drug agents.

The four selected pot farmers will have to pay a permit fee of $211,000 a year, but they stand to make millions for themselves and the city. However, they're navigating uncharted waters and one of the biggest threats out there could be the federal government.

About 75 applicants attended the meeting to learn how to apply for the coveted four permits allowing the cultivation of medical marijuana on an industrial scale. It'll be a blind selection process.

"I think it's going to be fair. I think there are a number of different criteria that the city council has factored in on this," says Mark Terbeek, a cannabis industry attorney.

The four pot farms will have to meet labor and employment standards, as well as stringent environmental and safety regulations.

"You just need to know state law and local law as it relates to medical cannabis," says Assistant City Administrator Arturo Sanchez.

But state law is in conflict with federal law and these applicants, many of them will to invest between $5 and $8 million, want to know if the city of Oakland will protect them if the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency decides to raid their pot farms.

"We're talking about taking a 1,500 square foot warehouse and possibly making it a 100,000 square foot warehouse which really puts the radar out there. Are you coming to jail with me?" asks Lisa Hirschhorn, a pot farm permit applicant.

"I'm out there on this limb with you. I don't know my own liability related to this process. I'm not sure what's going to come of it," says Sanchez.

"With the biggest risk hopefully comes the biggest reward over the long haul, but yea, we're absolutely aware of it and it's a big consideration for us," says Derek Peterson, a pot farm permit applicant.

City Councilmember Jane Brunner says the council hasn't discussed this issue yet, but she points out the feds kept their hands off when the city legalized marijuana dispensaries which sold on a smaller scale.

"If they come in and start fighting it because it's bigger cultivation, I'm not sure we'll be there fighting that fight for the cultivators. So I think it's a little bit of a risk," says Brunner.

Another concern is the election for state attorney general, which is still undecided. Republican Steve Cooley said last week that he'll prosecute marijuana dispensaries, even if cities allow them -- which doesn't bode well for industrial pot farms.

The city will award the four permits on Jan. 19, 2011.

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oakland, pot club, medical marijuana, east bay news, alan wang
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