San Francisco puts moratorium on new pot clubs

March 29, 2005

Suzanne Herel, San Francisco Chronicle

 

No more medicinal marijuana clinics will be allowed to open in San Francisco until new laws are drafted to regulate them, the Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

Board members enacted a 45-day moratorium on such establishments to give themselves time to rein in existing clubs, which have been sprouting up all over town and are essentially unregulated. The vote was 9-0, with Supervisors Gerardo Sandoval and Chris Daly absent from the meeting.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a supporter of medicinal marijuana and decriminalizing the drug, spearheaded the moratorium.

'We are not impinging upon the ability to administer medical cannabis,' he said.

Rather, he said, he wants comprehensive regulations -- with input from the community -- in part to protect the clinics from federal assault.

With an estimated 37 clubs operating in the city, he said, the moratorium is not expected to cut off any patient's access to medicinal marijuana.

California voters legalized the use in 1996 of medicinal marijuana, with a doctor's recommendation, by passing Proposition 215. But the use of the drug is still against federal law, and the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule in the next few months on a case expected to set a precedent in the matter of whether patients have the right to use marijuana for medical reasons.

Before Tuesday's meeting, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided a warehouse in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood, seizing more than 500 marijuana plants, said Richard Meyer, DEA spokesman. It was not immediately known whether the growers were suppliers to any of the San Francisco cannabis clubs, but Meyer said that the inside walls of the warehouse were plastered with Prop. 215 posters.

The supervisors' vote comes at the same time Mayor Gavin Newsom is calling for stricter rules for the clubs, after he learned that one was planning to open up shop in a city-funded welfare hotel in the Mission District.

The hotel owner has since canceled the lease with the prospective club.

'We need to catch our breath,' Mirkarimi said.

The board can extend the moratorium twice, up to a total of 22 months.

Tuesday's hearing drew several dozen speakers, most of whom supported the moratorium and Prop. 215. Mirkarimi said it was just the beginning of a process that would allow community input, with the next hearing scheduled for April 25 before a committee of the board.

Collin Bode, a South of Market resident, told the supervisors that in the past year, two clinics have opened on his block.

'One of them has been a good neighbor; the other has caused a crime wave, ' he said.

Similar testimony came from others who said they have been harassed by patrons of the pot clubs, and that some of the dispensaries are operating disturbingly close to schools and places where children play.

In addition, there was concern over safe and comfortable access to the clinics for the patients themselves.

And some said that when they voted for Prop. 215, they envisioned doctors and pharmacies being involved -- not Internet ads selling pot prescriptions and club users turning around and selling the drug on the street.

Newsom said Tuesday that regulations for the clubs are long overdue.

'We don't know how many clubs there are in the city,'' he said. 'Some have licenses, some don't. Some pay sales tax, most don't. It's a cash business, disproportionately. I've heard some anecdotal evidence that it may be the best business in the city to be in. That's not what I think the voters intended under Prop. 215.''



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