Last month, Oakland officially became the first city in the U.S. to allow large-scale marijuana factories to grow and process the drug for medical use.
Oakland will issue permits to four of these so-called Walmarts of pot production beginning in January.
There was plenty of opposition to the proposal, most of it from smaller and medium-sized cannabis growers who packed council chambers to complain that they would be squeezed out by the mega-producers.
City Council members who support the large pot factories said regulation would lead to safer production facilities. It would cut down on the electrical fires and robberies that have occurred in homegrown operations. Gobs of money could be raised for police officers from pot taxes.
I couldn't help but wonder: How did we arrive at such a sorry state of affairs that our city leaders are trying to dig out of the budget hole by encouraging pot factories? Does no one see the elephant charging through the room?
Growing and selling marijuana for any purpose is still illegal under federal law. Nancy Nadel, I believe, is the only council member who even mentioned it.
It is only because President Barack Obama called off the dogs — directing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder not to prosecute marijuana sellers and users who aren't violating local laws — that federal agents are no longer raiding medical dispensaries as they did under President George W. Bush.
Who knows how long the moratorium will last, if California passes Proposition 19 in November? The ballot measure would make it legal for anyone 21 or over to possess one ounce of marijuana for personal use.
If California drops its "medical" marijuana cover, will the DEA still remain at bay? The whole notion of marijuana at dispensaries being sold for strictly "medical" purposes has long been a sham.
True, there are many seriously ill people who benefit from smoking marijuana. A friend who passed away from brain cancer five years ago smoked the drug to help boost his appetite after chemo treatments made him nauseous.
He was an eligible candidate for a medical marijuana card.
Yet it's also true that pretty much anyone and their mother can qualify for a medical marijuana prescription in California.
You can get a medical card if you have insomnia or mood swings. Who doesn't? There are so many conditions that make you eligible, a de facto state of legalization pretty much already exists.
For those who don't want to go through the motions of obtaining a card, there are plenty of "medical" growers with flourishing pot-sale businesses catering to recreational uses on the side.
Those who support legalization say that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol. They say it's unfair to criminalize pot while allowing the legal sale of booze.
Proposition 19 supporters argue that both marijuana and alcohol should be regulated and taxed.
California NAACP President Alice Huffman came out in support of the measure. She said legalizing marijuana for recreational use would reduce the number of young black men in jail for marijuana-related offenses. Out of some 1,500 people in California prisons on marijuana charges, half are black.
Yet judging from the firestorm that Huffman's comments have created, there is a huge gulf between those who believe Prop. 19 will lead to more widespread use of marijuana and those who argue that the war on drugs has been a costly failure.
A coalition of black pastors is actively campaigning against Proposition 19.
They aren't moved by the argument that it would reduce the numbers of black men disproportionately incarcerated on marijuana possession charges.
They see marijuana as a scourge in their communities, an addictive substance that often leads to harder drug use. Sacramento pastor Ron Allen says he was on crack cocaine for 11 years. He said marijuana started him on the road to drug addiction.
There is no question that marijuana is an addictive drug. I know people whose brains are totally fried from decades of marijuana abuse.
Yet I also know people who use marijuana recreationally.
They aren't any more likely to become addicts than those who drink responsibly are to develop cirrhosis.
It's time we had an open and honest debate on the issue before voters go to the polls in November.
Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group.
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