Oakland City Council approves plan that would permit large-scale marijuana farms

The Oakland City Council has approved a plan to license four production plants where marijuana would be grown, packaged and processed, moving Oakland closer to becoming the first city in the nation to authorize wholesale pot cultivation.

The council voted 5-2 with one abstention late Tuesday in favor of the plan. The measure will go before the council one more time for a final vote, but the outcome is not expected to change.

The measure's supporters have said it could generate millions of dollars for Oakland in taxes and sales, create hundreds of jobs and position Oakland to reap dividends if voters pass a November initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Opponents have said it would drive small growers out of business.

Council members Rebecca Kaplan and Larry Reid, who introduced the plan, have pitched it largely as a public safety measure.

The Oakland fire department blames a dramatic rise in the number of electrical fires between 2006 and 2009 in part to marijuana being grown indoors with improperly wired fans and lights. The police department says eight robberies, seven burglaries and two murders have been linked to marijuana grows in the last two years.

Adding to the anxiety of growers — and the impetus Oakland officials have to get the grow tax in place — is a November state ballot measure to legalize marijuana possession for adult recreational use and authorize local governments to license and tax non-medical pot sales.

If it passes, Proposition 19 is expected to feed the state's hearty appetite for marijuana. Backers of creating the four big Oakland indoor gardens say their plan is not dependent on legalization, but would benefit from it.