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Editorial: Supes 2, pot 0

by BAR Editorial Board

Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors' vote last week to ban cannabis dispensaries in Chinatown is another let down for supporters of legal and medicinal marijuana in the city. Unlike last October, when the board's progressive bloc doomed the Apothecarium's proposed dispensary in the Sunset by a 9-2 vote, this time the vote was 8-3. Kudos to new Supervisors Rafael Mandelman (District 8) and Vallie Brown (District 5), who made their first decisions on the issue and voted against the ban. They were joined by District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who last year sided against the Sunset dispensary. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose District 3 includes Chinatown, sponsored the carve-out to exclude pot dispensaries.

After the board passed recreational marijuana regulations last December, ahead of the January 1 legalization under Proposition 64, Peskin proposed the Chinatown exclusion. He was unsuccessful and told his colleagues he'd be back. Asian-Americans made it clear to Peskin that they did not want dispensaries in their neighborhood and cited cultural aversion to cannabis as a reason. This argument is a smokescreen and a sweeping generalization that does not address the need for medical marijuana or the advent of legalized recreational cannabis.

Brown was right when she said at the meeting that the city's new regulations haven't had time to work yet. She also expressed concern about "a domino effect" in the city, whereby other districts might come before the board with similar requests. That's exactly the problem we envision, a potential slippery slope that could ban dispensaries elsewhere. Exceptions undermine the intent of Prop 64, and is not what 75 percent of San Franciscans voted for two years ago.

Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen was also a disappointment. Last fall, she and then-supervisor Jeff Sheehy were the only two members to stand up to the anti-gay Pacific Justice Institute that rallied against the Sunset dispensary. This time, she flipped positions during the meeting. When discussion began, Cohen said Peskin's carve-out could "perpetuate citywide division." "Our role is to be objective," she said. "Allowing permits to go through the planning process is fair, an exemption is not." But about 30 minutes later, she changed her mind. After asking whether Peskin would consider a temporary moratorium (he would not), she said she changed her position and voted with the majority.

The board must allow the regulations for recreational cannabis time to take effect. If issues arise, the usual practice is for the supervisors to hold hearings and draft the appropriate legislation. The board should not be caving to neighborhoods just because some residents have a problem with pot. We remain frustrated that the supervisors seem more concerned with individual neighborhoods than crafting effective policy for the entire city.

Mayor Breed, Castro's calling!
In January, when London Breed was serving as acting mayor, she had scheduled a merchant walk in the Castro. We were set to cover it, but it was canceled due to rain. Shortly afterward, Breed's colleagues on the Board of Supervisors voted her out as acting mayor and installed Mark Farrell as mayor. Breed went on to win the June special election to fill the remaining term of the late mayor Ed Lee and was inaugurated last month. Since then, she's made a point of doing walking tours of several of the city's grittier neighborhoods.

Former mayor and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Willie Brown wrote Sunday that since she's been in office, Breed is "high-heeling it through some of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. And when she spots litter on the streets or doesn't see cops on patrol, she lets department bosses know it."

We suggest that Breed take a tour of the Castro soon. As we report this week, some merchants and residents are concerned with what they perceive as a "lack of consistency" with beat patrol officers assigned to the neighborhood. Captain Gaetano Caltagirone, who took over Mission Station last fall, explains how the beat cops patrol the Castro and his desire to add another shift. Although he assures us that just because officers aren't seen doesn't mean they aren't on patrol, we think it would be great for Breed to see firsthand how the foot officers patrol their beat, as well as efforts by the city, the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District, and others to keep the streets safer and cleaner.

Mayor Breed, the Castro is calling.

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