Wed Jul 21, 3:31 am ET
OAKLAND, California (Reuters) – 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.
The move by the San Francisco Bay Area city aims to bring medical marijuana cultivation into the open and allow the city to profit by taxing those who grow it.
The resolution passed the city council easily after a nearly four-hour debate that pitted small-scale "garden" growers against advocates of a bigger, industrial system that would become a "Silicon Valley" of pot.
"This is going to grow as an industry. And someone is going to have a high-tech producer," Council Member Jean Quan said during the debate.
Oakland already taxes sales of medical marijuana, but cultivation has existed in a legal gray area. Council members plan later action to levy new taxes on growers.
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.
Polls put support for the November state legalization measure at about 50 percent of voters, and if it passed, the state would be the first to broadly legalize its use. Many jurisdictions tolerate some personal use and small sales, but none allow major-scale growing, sales and recreational use.
U.S. Federal law bans marijuana use of any sort but law enforcement authorities have turned a virtual blind eye to medical marijuana.
Large-scale cultivation in California so far has been dominated by criminals who grow marijuana in national forests or complexes of grow houses, law enforcement officers say.
The toughest opposition at the Tuesday city council meeting in Oakland came from the small-scale marijuana growers who feel they will be squeezed out of the market by the new 'agribusiness'. Outright opponents to marijuana use were silent.
(Editing by Alan Elsner)