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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oakland Invites New Marijuana Dispensaries to Risk Federal Prosecution

Posted By on Tue, Oct 18, 2011 at 12:50 PM

click to enlarge Don't Fed on Me
  • Don't Fed on Me

At times lost in the recent hubbub surrounding California's medical marijuana industry -- and the possible lack thereof in the near future -- was the city of Oakland's plans to double the amount of dispensaries allowed in the East Bay capital of cannabis.

Long known as the region's pot-friendliest city -- it is Oakland where adult-use only, no recommendation-required pot clubs exist -- Oakland has nonetheless had an up-and-down relationship with the magic plant.

Gone forever are the halcyon days of Oaksterdam, when dispensaries lined Broadway in Oakland's downtown. Gone are the plans to save cops' jobs and line city coffers with the tax proceeds from four industrial-sized marijuana grows. Gone, too, are the days when it was perfectly safe to follow state law, which says a dispensary can be within 600 feet of a school.

Recall that at least four Bay Area dispensaries received ultimatums

from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, instructing them to shut down or have

their properties forfeited and operators thrown in jail for the crime of

following state law.

That didn't compel Oakland to alter

its law to ensure its new taxpaying dispensaries wouldn't end up in

federal prison. The city's rule is that dispensaries be the

state-law-mandated 600 feet away from a school -- and 12 applicants

signed up to possibly risk federal prosecution, according to a city


There are currently four dispensaries in Oakland, including the nation's largest -- and, according to its CEO -- most at-risk for closure, Harborside Health Center, which is currently locked in a tax battle with the IRS.

Friday was the deadline for would-be dispensary operators to file applicants with the city of Oakland for one of the four new permits, and despite Haag telling four dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school or park to shut down or face consequences, there was no plan to alter Oakland's rules to be more federal-friendly, according to Arturo M. Sanchez, the Assistant to the City Administrator in charge of the dispensary program.

"We are proceeding with process [sic] as directed by the city council applying our ordinance," Sanchez wrote in a brief e-mail to SF Weekly.

The city received 12 applications by the Friday deadline, Sanchez said. Exactly who applied -- and where -- is not known; the city will not make the applications public during the review process, which has not yet begun. Some applications could be thrown out if they are deemed to be incomplete, Sanchez said.

Nonetheless, it would seem that this continues an Oakland trend of inviting federal attention. Recall last year Haag's letter to Oakland officials, informing them that they -- as in elected officials and city staff -- could be prosecuted if the city went through with its aborted plan to license and tax 100,000-square foot grow sites.

New dispensaries in San Francisco, which has no "hard cap" on the amount of dispensaries allowed within city limits as does Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, and Los Angeles, do not face the same risks: Laws in the City That Knows How to Avoid Federal Attention require dispensaries to be over 1,000 feet away from a school.

Until the applications are made public or applicants make themselves known, it's unclear exactly how many more federal law enforcement jobs Oakland is creating. However, it's bully for Oakland if The Town irks the feds, according to Mickey Martin, a medical cannabis consultant and blogger for "No one ever said this would be easy or fun," Martin wrote in an e-mail to SF Weekly.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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