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SF Supes Grapple with Cannabis Regulations

by Sari Staver

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy  (Source:Sari Staver)

A dozen current and former elected officials joined the chorus of cannabis activists and business owners urging the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to pass reasonable regulations that allow for adult recreational use of cannabis to begin January 1.

Officials held a November 8 news conference in front of City Hall. That followed two days of back-to-back committee hearings where supervisors are crafting legislation to create a regulatory framework for businesses to cultivate, manufacture, deliver, and sell cannabis when it becomes legal next year.

Proposition 64, passed by California voters last year, legalized the recreational use of cannabis by adults aged 21 and over.

Organized by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and gay San Francisco Democratic Party Chair David Campos, the officials issued a statement that said, "Currently, the proposals before the Board of Supervisors include several draconian proposals that will effectively ban new cannabis businesses in almost all of San Francisco, thus reducing access to cannabis, foregoing tax revenue and employment opportunities, preventing historically marginalized communities from entering the industry, and abandoning San Francisco's opportunity to continue to be a leader in cannabis access and innovation."

In addition to Wiener and Campos, both former supervisors, the officials included gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, Supervisors Malia Cohen (D10) and Hillary Ronen (D9), and half a dozen representatives from the boards that oversee City College of San Francisco and the city's public schools.

On November 6 and 7, the Land Use and Transportation Committee and the Rules Committee, respectively, heard dozens of residents, business owners, and activists offer opinions on how to balance the needs of various communities competing for policies that favor their members.

While some cities, such as Berkeley, have promised to be ready to sell pot to any adult on the first day of 2018, San Francisco is still squabbling over a variety of critical issues, including whether existing medical cannabis dispensaries will be fast-tracked to add recreational cannabis to their offerings.

Local officials have also not decided whether they will attempt to craft a citywide strategy or approve policies that would allow neighborhoods to carve out exemptions and exceptions.

Also at issue is the policy on the distance a recreational business must be from schools or day care centers; the state policy recommends 600 feet but some supervisors believe it should be maintained at 1,000, which is the requirement for medical cannabis dispensaries, a decision activists say would crimp the city's ability to establish a thriving cannabis industry. Most public commenters favored the 600 foot limit.

Politicians and activists weighed in with their opinions.

Sheehy, who uses medical cannabis to treat his HIV-related symptoms, said in a telephone interview after the land use committee hearing that he was "moderately optimistic" that the board would allow the city's existing medical cannabis dispensaries to sell marijuana to all adults beginning January 1.

"It's important that we at least get that done," said Sheehy. He has introduced an amendment that would temporarily allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to become retail outlets for recreational cannabis sales while they apply for new permits.

If local dispensaries aren't allowed to begin selling recreational marijuana beginning January 1, they might be harmed and possibly forced out of business while residents and tourists flock to cities that have moved more quickly, supporters said.

Sheehy is also adamant that the supervisors reject the proposal to require new dispensaries and stores selling recreational cannabis to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school.

"If that passes, we have not succeeded," he said, as such a proposal would make it very difficult for anyone to find a qualifying location.

That policy "has no basis in reality," he said, noting that stores selling alcohol or tobacco do not have to meet such criteria.

Sheehy believes that people testifying that the sale of cannabis puts children in danger "is a reminder of the stigma" facing people who sell or use marijuana. About a dozen people testified in favor of this at the November 6 hearing and "it amounts to repeating the slogans" introduced by the Pacific Justice Institute, which has held numerous news conferences at City Hall to protest the establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries in the Sunset. PJI has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, though its leaders dispute that.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who chaired the land use committee hearing, urged the supervisors to "get this done right rather than get it done fast." Peskin said he was in favor of developing a comprehensive citywide strategy, rather than allowing neighborhoods to seek exemptions, although he has asked for a ban in Chinatown.

District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim said that proposed restrictions on new dispensaries might not be prejudicial but rather about the diversity of businesses in each neighborhood. For example, said Kim, there are already 72 liquor stores in the Tenderloin, which is part of her district.

"I'd rather have a cannabis dispensary," said Kim, because such businesses typically do outreach, have security, and bring jobs to the neighborhood.

Wiener, a longtime cannabis advocate, posted his position on the controversy on his Facebook page, according to his Sacramento office.

"If you support people having access to cannabis products in San Francisco, you should be deeply concerned about" some of the restrictions under consideration by the Board of Supervisors, he said.

"San Francisco has long been a world leader on cannabis," Wiener stated. "We created the medical cannabis movement during the height of the HIV epidemic. Northern California is the cannabis cultivation capital of the world. Some truly amazing and innovative businesses are springing up right in our city, creating jobs and tax revenue and ensuring San Francisco's place as a center of innovation and center of cannabis."

Wiener said the city has a "huge opportunity" to participate in the industry "in a major way," including jobs, revenue, tourism, and creativity.

"I am well aware of the pressures local elected officials face when a vocal minority demands that you not allow X, Y, or Z (be it housing, cannabis, or a new bus line) in their neighborhood," he added. "It's hard to say no. Yet, in this situation, I am confident that a large majority of San Franciscans would not support such severe restrictions on cannabis establishments. After all, San Francisco voted 73 percent in favor of cannabis legalization."

Some of the suggested restrictions, such as a 600 foot radius around schools, "are simply over the top," Wiener stated.

The Board of Supervisors will continue its deliberations on cannabis next week at the Transportation and Land Use Committee meeting Monday, November 13 at 1:30 p.m. and at the full board meeting Tuesday, November 14 at 2. For details, check the agenda at


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