New Pot Clubs Coming to Oakland

But the city council keeps its plan for large cannabis farms on ice. Plus, a review of L.A. Noire's "Reefer Madness."

Medical cannabis patients in Oakland will likely have double, possibly triple, the number of dispensaries to choose from in the years to come, as the city backed away again last week from its embattled plans for large pot farms and turned toward boosting club diversity.

On July 12, the Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to increase the number of permitted dispensaries from four to eight. The increase was scheduled to go before the full council on July 19. During the Public Safety Committee meeting, Council President Larry Reid also expressed interest in increasing the number of Oakland dispensaries to twelve. San Francisco has 29 dispensaries, and as many as 200 groups could apply for Oakland’s new permits this fall.

The Public Safety Committee also shelved plans to amend Oakland’s embattled 2010 cultivation ordinance. Legalization Nation considers Oakland’s industrial pot farming permit program stalled indefinitely, especially after the June 29 “Cole Memo,” in which US Department of Justice Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole specifically singled out as an enforcement priority those “facilitating … multiple, large-scale, privately-operated industrial marijuana cultivation centers … [with] revenue projections of millions of dollars.”

Public officials wouldn’t be immune from the US Controlled Substances Act, Cole added. Federal actions could include arrest, prosecution, imprisonment, and property seizure. However, weed activists have pointed out that federal officials have never arrested a civil servant for administrating a medical marijuana program.

Under amendments that the Oakland council was scheduled to consider last week, but did not, each permitted pot farm would have to be in a “closed loop,” growing medical cannabis only for a specific dispensary. Farms would not be allowed to exceed 25,000 square feet per location or grow more than six mature plants per patient in the collective. The amendments are based on advice from the law firm Meyers Nave. The council brought in the firm this year to offer advice after then-Oakland City Attorney John Russo refused to help the council — citing the alleged illegality of their original plan.

That 2010 plan — which included 100,000-square-foot independent farms with no grow caps — drew rebukes from US Attorney Melinda Haag and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. The rebukes indicated that the plan was not legal under state law, in part because it would have allowed the pot farms to sell to any dispensary, and thus would not be part of a “closed loop.”

By permitting industrial cultivation, the city hopes to ameliorate some of the many hazards caused by rampant indoor cultivation. Some indoor weed gardens have ruined housing, and they attract would-be robbers. The Oakland Fire Department responds to about one fire with a pot farm on site per month.

Prop 19 campaigner and Oakland Patient ID Center operator Jeff Jones applauded the council’s decision to slow down. “I do think it’s great that we take this other, slower track. It’s worth delaying if we’re going to get it right.”

Dispensaries, on the other hand, appear to be less contentious, and have become a significant revenue source for Oakland — city staff considers them a success and a model for the nation. In 2010, the three operating dispensaries — one ran into legal trouble and closed — took in $28 million in sales. The city collected $420,000 in business taxes and an estimated $320,000 in sales taxes last year from the clubs, according to officials.

Doubling or tripling dispensary permits might not double or triple tax revenue, however. New dispensaries will likely siphon off existing clubs’ sales. Harborside Health Center, thought to be the largest club on the West Coast, has about 80,000 patients, according to company figures.

During public comment, no one opposed increasing the dispensary count, though some questioned the city’s opaque permitting process and its fee structure. Oaksterdam operator Richard Lee advocated for more, smaller stores, while asking the council to go easy on the taxation. Major Bay Area dispensaries are currently under audit by the Internal Revenue Service, which is seeking to disallow standard business tax deductions taken by the clubs.

L.A. Noire’s ‘Reefer Madness’

Calling all cars, calling all cars. The three million gamers who’ve purchased Playstation3 and Xbox 360 game L.A. Noire won’t be disappointed with the latest download, “Reefer Madness.” The $3.99, ninety-minute saga has detective Cole Phelps killing his way to the top of a 1940s marijuana trafficking ring. Expect vicious, stylized gun battles, foot and car chases, and boxes and boxes of rather high-quality sticky icky.

Publishers at Take-Two Interactive must be lighting cigars with $100 bills and laughing at the success of the highly praised game, produced for Rockstar by Australian development group Team Bondi. The $60 title is moving briskly thanks to its masterful storytelling and cutting-edge graphics. The film-quality game also is divided into specific noir crime cases, which perfectly lends itself to serialization.

Past downloadable content for the game included sleazy Argentinean diplomats, Howard Hughes, and the Spruce Goose. But just like today, L.A. Noire‘s vice squad doesn’t stop drug use so much as manage it. And without spoiling it, the plotline echoes parts of the TV series The Wire, in which the peons get bullets while the big fish are suspiciously well-connected.

This particular piece of content relies less on keen evidence-gathering and interrogation than brute force. But we found ourselves newly amazed at the graphics as we poured hundreds of rounds into a warehouse office during a midnight shoot-out. Glass partitions shattered, wood paneling burst, and paper flew as we sprayed the cubicles, each round flash-illuminating the darkness like a good noir should.


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