San Francisco Pot clubs face scrutiny

February 24, 2005

J.K. Dineen and Adriel Hampton, San Francisco Examiner

Two years after local voters passed a pro-medical marijuana measure, San Francisco may finally update its 'see no evil' policy and begin regulating its dozens of dispensaries.

The City has seen 'an explosion of new medical marijuana clubs,' according to Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a Green Party member who plans a public hearing on an estimated 34 clubs. Health Department records show that from 2003 to 2004, the number of patients requesting medical marijuana ID cards doubled to more than 7,000.

'After seeing the rise of this cottage industry in San Francisco, questions abound as to what The City might do to benefit from this commerce,' Mirkarimi said. 'I'm not looking in order to infringe on their business, but I want to bring them into the sunshine.'

Mirkarimi's hearing will address possible licensing fees, zoning requirements, safe access guidelines and consumer protections. Currently, The City allows the clubs to operate in a black-market limbo, free from prosecution or onerous planning hurdles.

Jason Beck, who owns the Alternative Herbal Medicine pot club on Haight Street, welcomed the increased scrutiny and regulation.

'Whatever types of regulation we can impose that benefit the patients would be great and will only provide us with more legitimacy,' said Beck, adding that some city clubs simply sell pot for profit, with nothing in the way of patient consultation or care.

A business license could also help dispensaries obtain insurance, Beck said, adding that a permitting fee would be a way for the clubs to pay a tax into city coffers.

Currently, all an aspiring medical marijuana shopkeeper needs in order to open is a willing property owner. Wayne Justmann, who was the first in line when The City began issuing medical marijuana ID cards, said the time is right for The City to define what constitutes a dispensary.

He pointed to a Haight Street smoke shop owner who one day put a medical marijuana sign in the window and started selling pot out of pickle jars.

'Because you have six pickle jars with cannabis in them, that makes you a cannabis club?' he asked. 'I'm offended.'

HUGE RISE IN DEMAND



Demand for medical marijuana has grown sharply since the Health Department began issuing ID cards four years ago.

Year: Cards issued


2000: 754


2001: 2,089

2002: 2,270


2003: 3,085


2004: 7,014

Number of San Francisco cannabis clubs: 34.

Regulations: None

Number of Oakland cannabis clubs: Four.

Regulations: Four-club limit within the city, $5,000 to $20,000 licensing fee, zoning, monitoring



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