Our Backyard: Cannabis Corruption

A plan by Councilmember Desley Brooks would not only harm the city’s cannabis trade but also set up a slush fund for her cronies.


Early this year, Oakland appeared poised to take a leading role in the state’s medical cannabis industry and be well-positioned should California voters legalize the adult use of marijuana in November. At the time, Oakland was prepared to license and regulate dozens of cannabis businesses in the city—from grow operations to edibles manufacturers—and finally bring them out of the underground drug market. But then the city’s plan unraveled, thanks to Councilmember Desley Brooks.

First, in the spring, Brooks pushed through a poorly thought out proposal that would set aside half of the new city licenses for people living in specific areas of East Oakland. Brooks said this new rule would help African Americans impacted by the Drug War get city licenses. But her plan also stood to benefit her friends and constituents in her council district.

Then in September, Brooks presented an even more radical plan, along with Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Larry Reid: Require all medical cannabis businesses to hand over 25 percent of their profits to the city each year. Industry members said the two proposals would effectively snuff out medical pot in Oakland. Experts also said the plan was illegal.

As if that were not bad enough, Brooks’ new proposal would take the 25 percent profits and dump them into what amounts to a multimillion-dollar slush fund with no oversight. According to some estimates, this Cannabis Equity Fund could rake in $25 million a year. One-third of these proceeds would be doled out in a no-bid deal to three nonprofits run by friends of Brooks, Reid, and Gallo. One of them is called the Hispanic Engineers, Builders & Contractors of California, and is operated by Gallo’s childhood pal.

Another 15 percent of the weed slush fund would be divided among the councilmembers to spend as they see fit in their districts. Years ago, councilmembers had a similar fund but were forced to eliminate it after the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury questioned whether the fund was being used for corrupt purposes.

Luckily, Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Abel Guillen effectively blocked Brooks’ plan—for now. And let’s hope the rest of the council votes to kill it soon.

Published online on Oct. 27, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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