Should the homeless be allowed to cultivate cannabis in vacant city lots? The answer isn’t always as legally straightforward as you might think. Under Proposition 64, adult Californians can grow up to six living plants on private residences—a provision that some individuals who are homeless claim allows them to continue growing.
At a previously vacant lot, located at Wood Street and West Grand Avenue in the neighborhood of West Oakland, an encampment has become a focal point for the media. Several dozen people live in the lot, mostly in RVs or in mini buses. A handful of them have taken up the hobby of cultivating cannabis in neatly organized planter boxes.
As of early September, there were 35 planter boxes filled with manicured cannabis plants. The grow operation remained untouched for at least four months, despite being monitored by city leadership. The seeds were planted in May, with plans to harvest the cannabis in October.
Cam McMeel, 51, and several other people living in the lot requested that the city allow them to continue to cultivate cannabis, even if they have to move the plants to another location. Surprisingly, the grow operation at Wood and West Grand remains intact as of the time of writing.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that between 2017 and 2019, Oakland’s homeless population soared 47 percent—one of the single largest increases of any California city during the same time period. Many of them have jobs or are living with their whole families.
Per Section 4.5 of the Adult Use Marijuana Act, or Proposition 64, Section 11362.2 is added to Health and Safety Code to address home cultivation on private residences. “Not more than six living plants may be planted, cultivated, harvested, dried, or processed within a single private residence, or upon the grounds of that private residence, at one time,” the language reads. Under McMeel’s interpretation of the law, people who are homeless could technically get away with the operation if they had permission from the property owner. In this case, the owner of the lot is an enterprise called Game Changer LLC., which didn’t respond to media requests.
But Joe DeVries, assistant to the city administrator’s office, wildly disagrees with McMeel’s slant of city law. “You’ve trespassed on someone’s property and taken over a huge portion of it to create a large cannabis farm for profit,” DeVries told the San Francisco Chronicle. “No one can smoke that much pot. He did it without getting permission from the city, without getting permission from the owner. No, that is not OK.”
“You’ve trespassed on someone’s property and taken over a huge portion of it to create a large cannabis farm for profit. No one can smoke that much pot.”
Home cultivation in California does not require a permit, but given that those who live in the lot are not legal tenants, it’s unclear what kind of permission they would need to seek.
According to DeVries, the city has plans to convert the lot into an RV park for the impoverished, with capacity for 50 RVs, but under the watchful eye of city leaders. In his opinion, this would make the situation much safer. While it’s unlikely that the city will allow them to continue the operation permanently on the lot, the saga continues, and city leaders appear to have chosen to focus on other immediate matters.