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(Photo by Eric Pratt)

Supervisors approve San Francisco’s first-ever recreational weed laws

After weeks of delay, San Francisco approved Tuesday regulations for recreational cannabis that will allow existing dispensaries to start retail sales come Jan. 5, four days after the era of legalization begins throughout California.

Heading into the meeting, the Board of Supervisors was under noticeable political pressure. Hundreds of anti-cannabis and pro-cannabis residents held dueling rallies outside City Hall and later filled the building’s hallways, waiting to cram into the chambers where the legislative branch meets. People filled the 253 seats and the remainder were sent to an overflow room to watch the meeting on broadcast.

Details on how to regulate recreational cannabis in San Francisco were still being worked on by members of the board heading into the 2 p.m. meeting, and a number of contentious aspects remained uncertain, such as how far new cannabis outlets must be from schools.

Close to 9 p.m., the board voted 10-1 to approve the regulations after taking up other matters unrelated to cannabis and shot down a series of tougher restrictions sought by some board members.

Per the approved regulations, new cannabis outlets would not be allowed to open within 600 feet of schools, as advised by Proposition 64, the measure that legalizes cannabis statewide and was approved by California voters last year, and must be 600 feet apart from each other.

The City will allow 30 existing brick medical dispensaries and 15 delivery services to begin, with their existing permits, retail sales come Jan. 5. To do so, they would have to obtain a temporary 120-day state license and meet certain criteria as part of an equity program meant to repair some of the damage from the war on drugs on people of color.

Criteria includes having to submit an equity plan and hire 30 percent of their workforce who meet equity criteria, such as having criminal convictions for cannabis offenses.

Supervisor Malia Cohen had asked to postpone the board’s Nov. 14 vote on the regulations until the land regulations were resolved to ensure success of the equity program she had introduced. The board had considered at that meeting to allow existing dispensaries to sell retail cannabis but punt decisions on land use to a later date.

For new cannabis outlets, The City will permit only equity applicants until equity applicants comprise half the market, and then it would be a one-for-one permit approval. That means since there are 45 existing dispensaries, The City will permit 45 equity applicant cannabis outlets before letting non-equity applicants apply.

Equity applicants cannot apply to start retail sales until the Office of Cannabis offers applications. Cohen said she expects the applications ready by Jan 5, although Nicole Elliott, the office’s director, has not yet committed to a date.

While a well-organized group of anti-cannabis Chinese-American residents appeared weeks ago to have succeeded in pressuring the board to pass tough regulations that some said would have killed the cannabis industry, pushback from pro-cannabis leaders appears to have prevailed in the end.

The board rejected a number of specific neighborhood cannabis limits, such as overturning an existing ban of only three cannabis outlets in District 11, the Excelsior, which is represented by Supervisor Ahsha Safai. Safai, who was the only supervisor to vote against the regulations, said it was disrespectful not to keep in place the District 11 cannabis ban.

Instead of a ban in Chinatown, as was considered, the board approved requiring a special conditional use permit that could be appealed to the board.

Supervisor Katy Tang proposed requiring cannabis outlets to be 1,000-feet away from both schools and childcare centers. “My constituents have advocated for this very strongly,” Tang said.

But Supervisor Hillary Ronen blasted Tang’s tougher restrictions, which the board voted down. She said The City should embrace “an exciting moment in our country’s history of finally waking up and saying we have been mistaken on how we handle drugs in our society.”

She added, “I am just shocked by my colleagues. I don’t understand why we are pretending that this is so dangerous for children.”

The legislation will come before the board next week for a second and final vote. Mayor Ed Lee then has 10 days to sign it into law.

This story first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.



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