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How Oakland’s Walmart-ization of Weed Could Choke Out Small-Time Growers

The closer marijuana comes to full legalization status in California, the more likely it is that the plant will be treated like any other crop–that is, as an industrial cash cow that often squeezes out small farmers. And the marijuana industrialization process is, in fact, already beginning.

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 The closer marijuana comes to full legalization status in California, the more likely it is that the plant will be treated like any other crop–that is, as an industrial cash cow that often squeezes out small farmers. And the marijuana industrialization process is, in fact, already beginning. Oakland, California, became the first city this week to allow large-scale industrial marijuana cultivation.

As a result of the new policy, four lucky Oakland marijuana entrepreneurs will be allowed to build growing facilities measuring up to 100,000 square feet–as long as they agree to pay a
$5,000 permit fee, a $211,000 regulatory fee, and an 8% gross sales tax.

Locals are already jumping at the opportunity. Jeff Wilcox, one of the 192 applicants for the newly minted permits, envisions his seven-acre plot of land near the Oakland waterfront transformed into a pot growing powerhouse. Wilcox was one of the biggest proponents for the new legislation, but there are still no guarantees that he’ll get one of the permits. If he gets one of the contracts, which are set to be doled out in January 2011, crops could be ready for harvesting as early as next June, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Wilcox estimates that his facility could produce 21,100 pounds of marijuana and $60 million in gross
sales annually.

Four growing facilities may not force small growers to the sidelines, but what happens when the legislation inevitably expands to include more marijuana factories? Entire California counties that rely on marijuana cultivation for income could be hit hard. In a recent interview with SF Weekly, one Mendocino county sheriff acknowledges that the county only has “government and weed” to rely on for jobs. So while the industrialization of marijuana could reap a tax windfall for local government, residents should remember that industrial pot (and legalization) could also cause unemployment in many parts of the state.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

[Image via Creative Commons]

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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