The Drug Enforcement Administration contacted Oakland officials last week requesting information about a controversial ordinance to permit large-scale marijuana production in the city, according to aides to both the City Council and city manager.
The calls are the first indication that the federal government is closely monitoring Oakland’s efforts to position itself as a hub for marijuana commerce. The new ordinance, which was passed by City Council on July 20, allows permits for four marijuana factories capable of producing hundreds of pounds of the drug each year.
A November ballot measure, Proposition 19, will allow state voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, raising questions of whether the DEA will step in if Oakland attempts to significantly expand production.
A DEA official confirmed the calls were made.
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said, “I will say this: We are certainly going to be very, very interested in any large-scale marijuana cultivation that’s going on."
According to a memo released by City Council member Nancy Nadel, the Oakland city attorney’s office has expressed concern about the legality of the pot cultivation ordinance. A representative from the city attorney’s office declined to discuss the matter, citing attorney-client privilege. However, the city attorney’s signature was conspicuously absent from the ordinance. His staff typically signs off on city regulations after reviewing their legality.
If the plan is perceived by the feds as too far out-of-step with established state medical marijuana practices, it could trigger enforcement. But so far, federal agencies have declined to say what they will do when Oakland’s pot cultivation plants go online in January of next year.
Aides who said they were contacted by the DEA last Friday said agency officials appeared to be seeking information about the new ordinance but gave little indication of what they intended to do with it.
Arturo Sanchez, who oversees the city’s medical marijuana regulations, said he spoke to two DEA officials.
“My take on the conversation was that it was very positive,” said Sanchez, who recalled that the agents wanted to know when the facilities would open and asked for a copy of the ordinance. “I told them we wanted to make sure we have great regulation and are as above board as we can be.”
Ada Chan, a policy analyst for City Council member Rebecca Kaplan, also fielded a call from the DEA. Chan said that she explained the intention of the permits was to “get the cultivation out of residential areas” and reduce crime and electrical fires at illicit pot operations.
“I told him we’d send him over our stuff,” said Chan, “and any feedback they have would be appreciated.”