SF Mayor declares moratorium on medical marijuana clubs

March 20, 2005

Suzanne Herel, San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom called for a moratorium today on medical marijuana clubs in the city after learning that one such clinic planned to open on the ground floor of a city-funded welfare hotel that is home to a number of recovering drug addicts.

'That obviously raised some concern, not just from the community, not just from our Departments of Human Services, but from the residents within the building themselves, who appropriately said, ‘Hey, I'm just trying to get away from drugs and alcohol and here you have a pot club downstairs,' ' Newsom said.

'It was at that moment that our office started looking at a way we could amend all of our contracts with the Department of Human Services to restrict the ability to purchase ... units under the Care Not Cash program and restrict the use of medicinal marijuana clubs in those facilities.'

The pot club that grabbed Newsom's attention was the Holistic Center, which plans to open this week on the ground floor of the All-Star Hotel in the Mission District. The hotel is among a dozen that serve welfare tenants under Newsom's Care Not Cash program.

Since state voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing the use of medicinal marijuana, San Francisco has become home to more than 30 percent of the state's 125-plus dispensaries, Newsom said. However, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly how many such clinics operate in the city, he said, because they are not regulated.

There are no legal requirements in San Francisco to show an identification card when purchasing marijuana, no licensing or permitting necessary for clubs, and no restrictions on prices or client age.

'We have frankly -- let me be straight and honest -- been lax on this,' Newsom said. 'I will take personal criticism to the extent that I am the mayor of San Francisco, that I have not been diligent, and nor has the elected family been diligent, in the oversight.

'I believe in the core of my cores that medicinal marijuana is appropriate and right,' Newsom said. 'That being said, I also think there needs to be some common sense and grounding as it relates to the proliferation of these clubs in San Francisco.'

'We're on a path -- this is hyperbole -- but we are conceivably walking down a path that would allow for a club on every street corner in San Francisco,' Newsom said.

He pointed to other California municipalities that have regulated the clinics, including Oakland, which recently capped the number of medical marijuana clinics at four.

'What may be appropriate for Oakland may not be appropriate for San Francisco, but clearly there's some precedent,' Newsom said.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier plans to introduce an emergency ordinance for a moratorium at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting that could be passed as early as next week. It will require approval from nine of the 11 supervisors for passage.

Board President Aaron Peskin said that he would support the mayor's initiative.

'It seems reasonable,' he said. 'Right now, it is the only manner of land use that's not regulated. It's not a matter of, are you for or against them. They should be subject to the same rules we use for everything from restaurants to adult theaters.'

E-mail Suzanne Herel at sherel@sfchronicle.com.

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