Oakland: the city that doesn't know how

Submitted by R.E. Graswich

As cities across California work to regulate adult-use cannabis with new local ordinances, one community is helpfully creating a worst-practice example.

Whatever you do, don't follow Oakland.

Since medical marijuana regulations were passed on the state level more than a year ago, Oakland has struggled to reconcile its image as a progressive, pro-cannabis community with its reality as a politically dysfunctional municipal government that can't get out of its own way.

The passage of the recreational cannabis initiative, Prop. 64, has only made Oakland's problems more obvious.

The East Bay city has tried to address societal sins of the past by setting aside commercial cannabis permits for drug offenders and residents of high-crime neighborhoods. And Oakland has tried to force itself into the cannabis trade by requiring entrepreneurs to partner up with the city by turning over profits and board seats.

None of these approaches has worked -- the partnership scheme was called illegal by state officials -- and Oakland has repeatedly fallen backwards with each stumbling step toward regulation.

A week after Election Day, the Oakland City Council was once again at its most argumentative, voting 4-3 to revise the regulatory proposals and make the permitting process more reasonable.

The overarching goal was lofty -- make amends to people impacted by the U.S. War on Drugs by setting aside four special "equity permits" for ex-cons and residents who live in districts with high rates of cannabis arrests.

Critics said the program would push legacy businesses out of Oakland.

The Oakland council is still considering the "equity permit" program, but has asked the city administrator to figure out new options and report back in January. The plan to require cannabis operators to give the city 25 percent of profits and seats on their governing boards has been permanently tabled.

The council also considered applying huge fines and taxes to legacy cannabis businesses that have operated without permits.

Contrast Oakland's approach with that of Sacramento, a similarly sized city 80 miles away. In the state capital, regulations for growing and distributing commercial cannabis have quietly and collaboratively worked their way through the ordinance-creation process.

When the Sacramento City Council votes on marijuana issues, the vote is typically on consent -- which means the measure is automatically adopted without discussion. There's no controversy.

Sacramento has had dispensary permits in place for six years, and has peacefully collected millions of dollars in taxes on cannabis.

For examples of how best to regulate medical and adult-use cannabis and the accompanying issues of cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and sales, cities are advised to ignore Oakland on their way to Sacramento.