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Pot is Legal in California

by Sari Staver

The sale of marijuana for recreational use is now legal in California
The sale of marijuana for recreational use is now legal in California  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

After thousands of people lined up to buy legal weed on New Year's Day at dispensaries in Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and San Jose, San Franciscans are still waiting to find out where and when they'll be able to purchase weed locally.

As of Wednesday morning, some 20 San Francisco medical marijuana dispensaries had filed applications with the city and state to obtain approval to begin selling cannabis to adults over age 21, according to Nicole Elliott, the director of the city's Office of Cannabis.

In an email to the Bay Area Reporter, Elliot said that the city is working "around the clock" to process the paperwork in hopes that they'll be able to finish before Saturday, January 6, the first date dispensaries in the city are allowed to legally sell pot to people without a medical card.

Among those that have applied are the Apothecarium, SPARC, Harvest, Bloom Room, Purple Star MD, Green Door, Green Cross, Barbary Coast, and BASA.

The legalization of cannabis in California came about after voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Nevada in implementing legalized and regulated recreational cannabis sales.

In 1996, California approved Proposition 215, legalizing cannabis for adults with a physician's approval. The system put in place was intended to have strict criteria for approval but deteriorated into a sham where anyone could go online, and for $25, get a physician to authorize an applicant's need for pot.

After voters approved Proposition 64, it was left to local governments to iron out the specific rules governing the sale of cannabis in their jurisdictions. In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors had several lengthy public hearings where hundreds of people from the Chinese community arrived in buses to demonstrate in front of City Hall, demanding that the city provide strict regulations such as increasing the distance dispensaries must be from schools from 600 to 1,000 feet, a proposal that was eventually defeated.

The supervisors' lengthy debate on what rules to enact delayed their final vote to November 5, giving San Francisco dispensary owners little time to fill out the necessary paperwork required to be permitted to sell marijuana for recreational use.

Among the dispensaries waiting for their license is SPARC, which has locations in South of Market and the Lower Haight. Founder and CEO Erich Pearson, a gay man and longtime cannabis activist, said that both dispensaries if approved would look "very much the same" as they did when they were only serving medical cannabis patients.

Prices, however, will be up about 15 percent, said Pearson, reflecting the state excise tax. An eighth of top-shelf flowers that previously cost $50 will now be $57.50, he noted.

Pearson does not anticipate long lines of local residents due to the change in the law.

"It's been easy to get a medical recommendation here, so the long lines we've seen in Nevada and Colorado after legalization" probably won't be seen in San Francisco, he predicted.

There could likely be an uptick in sales to tourists from overseas or other states, Pearson said, as they will only need a picture ID with their date of birth to buy something.

Another change will be a decrease in product offerings from some of the small cannabis cultivators, many of whom have closed their businesses to avoid the high costs of being in compliance with state regulations. Because SPARC grows most of its own cannabis, the company will be better positioned than other dispensaries to grow some of the varieties they used to get from the artisanal growers.

SPARC also manufactures and sells its own line of oils and cartridges; a private line of edibles is "in the works," Pearson said. At its SOMA location on Mission Street, SPARC's vaporizing lounge was "grandfathered" into the regulations and may be enlarged if there is increased demand, he said.

Missing will be the occasional vendor sampling tables, said Pearson, as they are now illegal in the state.

"At least until we can figure out how to finesse" the law, he said.

At the Castro's Apothecarium, operations director Chase Chambers predicts that waits of 30 minutes or more "are possible" in the days following approval to sell recreational weed. New customers will have to "register" before purchasing cannabis, said Chambers, just as they did under the medical cannabis system.

The Apothecarium, which also has locations in the Marina and in SOMA, is in the "middle of hiring" at all locations, said Chambers, a gay man. Within a year, the increased business from recreational cannabis will probably increase staffing by about 50 percent, he expects. Positions are open for budtenders and drivers, said Chambers.

In the past, the company always had "more than enough" applicants to fill their openings, he said. "We don't anticipate having any difficulty filling jobs."

Over time, said Chambers, customers should expect price increases on some of their favorite products, as manufacturers pass along their increased costs under the new regulatory system.

"We welcome the mandatory testing" now required under state law, he said. "We've been doing it on our own for years, so this will level the playing field" now that others are also required to test.

In the works is an opening day 20 percent discount on everything bought by people who bring their mother into the Apothecarium, said Chambers.

"We want you to know this is a safe place to bring your mom," he said.

Until the city and state approve the dispensary license applications, people will have to cross the bridge to the East Bay to get recreational pot.

"We are working diligently to move this process forward knowing that January 6 is the first day sales could legally occur in SF," Elliott wrote in her emailed reply to the B.A.R.

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