On February 9th, Oakland City Staff presented suggestions for amendments to the City’s Public Safety Committee. The Public Safety Committee had additional concerns that they wanted addressed by staff in the changes. The City Administrator’s office released an updated staff report last week that addresses the concerns expressed at the February meeting, and the issue is set to go in front of the Public Safety Committee again on April 26th where it will hopefully be approved and sent to Oakland City Council to vote on. Clarification on multiple topics relating to cannabis businesses emerging in the community were addressed. These topics include local hiring requirements, additional buffer restrictions, security at licensed facilities, onsite consumption, industrial tenant improvement program, administrative discretion, proximity to residential uses, and access to banking.
Local hiring, as well as ownership, is important to the City of Oakland. They want 50% of cannabis employees to be Oakland residents, with a focus on hiring people from lower income areas. Opening employment to the previously incarcerated could provide dispensary cannabis business with a tax break or fee reductions. This gives opportunity to those who may be struggling to find employment due to formerly being incarcerated. Hiring locally will aim to improve the unemployment rate in Oakland.
Although several amendments have been made for the better, there are still proposed matter, such as adding additional buffers, that could hinder the ability of a business to find a compliant location. In addition to the buffers around youth centers and consideration of churches, parks, playgrounds and other dispensaries that current dispensaries adhere to, City Council members are suggesting a 1,000-foot buffer between al licensed cannabis facilities. This would severely limit the ability of businesses to find facilities and would be counterproductive to the City’s goals of licensing all cannabis businesses. Data shows that there is no need for these types of distance requirements, as dispensaries have drastically reduced crime in areas where they are located. Additionally, cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution businesses do not serve the public, which City staff likens to putting these buffers around a brewery or bottling facilities for alcohol. For that matter, bars do not have these distance requirements, and alcohol is far more likely to cause an issue in the community. It is important that we come out to the Public Safety meeting on April 26th and encourage the committee to reject unnecessary buffers for cannabis businesses.
Cannabis businesses will be required to have a detailed security system. This means the installation of cameras in and outside of the buildings, and monitored alarm systems. The added security standards will allow local law enforcement access to security tapes and information to aid in crime reduction. This not only helps the business to prevent crime and theft, but protects the community as well. Limiting criminal activity and bad behaviors increases public safety, and limits perceived issues related to cannabis. By limiting crime that happens in the cannabis industry we continue to dispel myths about dangers and increase acceptance.
A new on-site consumption permit is being considered, as well for dispensaries. This would improve business for dispensaries, allowing them to sample products on site before purchasing, as well as giving a safe space for people to consume and take part in social activities. Proof of operating protocols and safety plans to address parking concerns, ventilation issues, and avoidance of drugged-driving will be needed to obtain this special secondary permit.
The City is concerned about driving out the diverse business community currently located in industrial areas and are considering some possible solutions to avoid a cannabis business land grab situation. They are working on a program to counteract the negative effects of a “cannabis take-over” in the industrial area. This program will be funded by revenues from licensed medical cannabis facilities, and will promote the diversity of industrial activities as well as expand the City’s overall ability to prosper with changing economic conditions. Making this offsetting investment into improving industrial areas and increasing available space means no more worries about cannabis businesses driving out the “diverse industrial community.”
The City would like to give administrative discretion that would allow the City Administrator to reconsider a particular location requirement if the City Administrator determines that the location will not impact the peace, order and welfare of the public. This is a provision currently allowed for dispensaries that they are hoping will also apply to all types of licensing. Revised OMC 5.80.020 requires confirmation that a proposed cannabis business will not negatively impact nearby residential and other sensitive uses. Dispensaries have proven to be beneficial to the communities they serve, and actually have reduced crime by all findings. The report details a local dispensary that reduced the amount of police calls for service in the area by 29 percent in one year to prove their point. They also go into how a historic building was preserved, and a dispensary is not doing well in an area that was not initially approved due to the allowance of administrative discretion in the siting process. This particular dispensary continues to be referred to favorably by neighboring residents.
The report also goes into concerns about banking. Banking in the cannabis community remains limited due to federal prohibition of cannabis, and banks’ reliance on the Federal Reserve. The City Administrator is trying to find other methods that reduce reliance on cash transactions. Their idea is that less cash in the register, means less worrying about robberies and theft. They are looking for possible solutions, including detailed cash handling and tracking protocols for cannabis businesses.
There were also some major adjustments in the fee schedule, such as a Dispensary Application reduced from $8,800 to $3,644 and the yearly Dispensary Renewal fee is now based on gross annual sales instead of a flat $60,000 a year. The proposed rates are far more reasonable. The On-Site Consumption application fee is $2,813/$500 per year.
The City Administrator did another good job in their report, and we are hopeful that the Public Safety Committee will accept these changes and put it to the City Council for a vote in May. Oakland has been a leader in licensing medical cannabis businesses since their historic ordinance in 2004-2005. It is exciting to see them moving forward with licensing for the rest of the industry. We are hopeful that cultivators and manufacturing businesses will have a place to call home and realize the same protections afforded to dispensaries through licensing.
But this is far from a done deal. We need YOU to come out on Tuesday, April 26th to the Public Safety meeting and speak in support of the City Administrator’s report. The meeting starts at 6:30 pm at Oakland City Hall. Public comment will be allowed. We hope you will join us, and encourage progress for medical cannabis businesses in Oakland. You can also contact the Council and Committee by email if you cannot make it out. Thanks.