Oakland, CA pioneers huge Victory for Medical marijuana
Oakland, California is quickly becoming the example of what a legalized marijuana world might look like.
The city of Oakland, California on Tuesday legalized large-scale marijuana cultivation for medical use and will issue up to four permits for "industrial" cultivation starting next year. OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – "This is a monumental step forward," said Dale Gieringer, an Oakland resident and the longtime head of California NORML, which backs the legalization of marijuana. "It really means moving into the era of industrial-scale operations, and Oakland means to do it big."
The 5-2 vote came after two hours of testy debate between growers who argued how the industrial smoke would have the WeedMart affect on them, and businessmen who said "it could turn Oakland into the Silicon Valley of pot."
California was the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana in 1996. Since then, cities all over the state have had medicinal dispenseries popping up everywhere. However, Oakland seems to be the city grabbing the bong by the horns. It was the first to reduce police priority of marijuana crimes and is the nation's first city to put a business tax on retail marijuana sales. It is also home to Oaksterdam University, its own flourishing business college that offers the highest quality training for the cannabis industry.
"City Council member Rebecca Kaplan tells NEWSWEEK that the new tax revenue will help save libraries, parks, and other public services, and that the once destitute area where Oaksterdam now thrives has seen a clear boost. Over the past six years, 160 new businesses have moved into downtown Oakland, and the area's vacancy rate has dropped from 25 percent to less than 5, according to Oakland's Community and Economic Development Agency. And while that can't be attributed to Oaksterdam directly, some local business owners believe it's played a key role—particularly as it relates to local tourism. Lee hosts 500 students at Oaksterdam University each month—about 20 percent of them from out of state—and has graduated nearly 4,000 since he opened the school in late 2007, inspired by a "cannabis college" he discovered on a trip to Amsterdam. The Blue Sky Coffeeshop serves about 1,000 visitors a day, half of them from out of town, and neighboring stores say the traffic has helped drive business their way. Regulation, say advocates, has also made consumption safer. They say it gets rid of hazardous strains of the drug, and eliminates the crime that can accompany underground dealing."
In addition, Oakland was also the first city to regulate medicinal marijuana dispenseries. Not all of California medicinal marijuana dispensaries are legally recognized, and there's a growing trend of more local and federal regulations colliding. Oakland sets itself apart in that it has four licensed and regulated dispensaries. It seems aimed at proving to the rest of California that a regulated marijuana industry can be both profitable and responsible. "The reality is we're creating jobs, improving the city, filling empty store spaces, and when people come down here to Oakland they can see that." Richard Lee, who operates one of its dispensaries, and who put the marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, was quoted saying .
The struggling city, which faces a $31 million deficit and has a 17 percent unemployment rate, estimates that the marijuana factories could bring in as much as $38 million annually in fees and taxes. The city's decision is separate from a statewide ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use which Californians will vote on in November.