The city of Oakland has been a pioneer in the medical cannabis industry, and now city leaders have some decisions to make regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana in California.
The City Council convened a special meeting Monday night to discuss some contentious proposals to regulate the drug for recreational use. Some are saying the city now runs the risk of becoming too regulated for recreational pot.
Inside City Hall, it was standing room only as City Council members debated new regulations on the sale and production of pot in Oakland.
"To me, this is the largest opportunity that’s come through Oakland in the 30 plus years I’ve lived here," one resident said at Monday's meeting.
Kamina Wilson, who works for a cannabis doctor, said after the passage of Proposition 64 last week, the questions are endless.
"Taxing, seeing what new laws are they going to come up with," Wilson said when asked what intrigued her about Monday's discussions.
Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Council member at large, was concerned with how to make sure the growing industry benefits the whole community. One proposal is to require that half the city’s permits be given to pot dispensaries with employees jailed on marijuana convictions over the past decade.
"After decades of the war on marijuana hurting black communities, now that this will be a source of revenue, how do we make sure that revenue is used to benefit the communities that have been hardest hit by the harms?" Kaplan said. "It is really important that we stop punishing people for an activity that our society has agreed is not a crime."
Another proposal would require 25 percent of all pot profits be turned over to the city to fund community projects and job training programs.
Councilwoman Desley Brooks said that proposal doesn’t go far enough.
"We had agreed coming up with amendments to cannabis (laws) ... and the only equity they could see was providing for jobs," Brooks said. "Real equity is ownership."
Alex Zavell, senior regulatory analyst says the city, which has been a leader in medical marijuana, now runs a risk of becoming too regulated. He says the city could lose well over $9 million in revenue annually if dispensaries or drug producers go elsewhere.
"It's really been a historical part of Oakland's history of tolerance to cannabis that that activity is here now, and it's Oakland's to lose at this point," Zavell said. "There's now sort of going to be an impending regulatory system that's very clear at the state level how this actually can occur. And there are dozens of jurisdictions that are looking at this as an industry that they're seeking to attract for job purposes and tax revenue and that are adopting wide open policies, places like Richmond or Santa Rosa."
Those who own pot warehouses now and are looking to get a dispensary permit disagree with giving the city a percentage of their profits to give back to the community.
Proposals will go to the city attorney for review.